Jeff Gordon did his best to shake off the disappointment over his elimination from the championship field by winning the pole for Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Gordon turned a lap at 180.747 mph in Friday qualifying to earn the top starting spot for a race that became meaningless to his season after he crossed the finish line last week at Phoenix. Gordon finished second and was in the field of four drivers for the championship race, but he was knocked out seconds later by Ryan Newman.
Using an aggressive pass of Kyle Larson coming out of the final turn, Newman picked up the one position he needed to knock Gordon from the championship race by one point.
Now Gordon will race only for the trophy on Sunday, while Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman will compete for the title.
Harvick will lead the title contenders Sunday by starting fifth. Hamlin will start eighth and Logano is in the 12th slot. Newman was the worst qualifier at 21st.
“It hit me hard when I crossed the line at Phoenix. I think I was just really in disbelief for a good 24 hours that we did everything so right and didn’t make it,” Gordon said. “That disappointment was definitely there throughout the week. I think even if we win this race on Sunday, that’s only going to make it hurt a little bit more in some ways because we could have won the championship if we were here.”
Gordon, a four-time winner this season and the points leader for most of the year, was seeking his fifth championship. Now he’s just trying to close out the season on a high note for his Hendrick Motorsports team.
The first step was winning the 200th pole for the Hendrick organization. Kurt Busch qualified second and was followed by Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski.
“I think the way we’re looking at this weekend is we want to finish this season on the best note possible,” Gordon said. “It’s been a tremendous season for us. I’m disappointed we’re not in this thing for the championship, but that’s not going to stop us from trying to win the pole and win the race.”
Stewart winning streak on the line
Tony Stewart’s 15-year winning streak will likely end in Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Stewart missed three races after his sprint car struck and killed a young racer in an August accident in New York, and his grief over the incident stayed with him for several months. Add in his struggles with NASCAR’s current rules package, the persistent pain in his leg, and Stewart needs the season to end so he can hit the reset button.
“All streaks come to an end at some point,” Stewart quietly said during an interview with The Associated Press.
His streak of winning at least one Cup race a season began with a victory as a rookie Sept. 11, 1999, at Richmond International Raceway. It is tied for fourth-best in NASCAR history. Richard Petty holds the record with 18 straight years.
NASCAR chairman hails new playoff format
After a wild playoff round filled with brawls and go-for-the-throat racing that left NASCAR’s biggest stars out of title contention, chairman Brian France said Friday the series would “be delighted” if winless Ryan Newman defied the odds and claims the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
France announced the revamped playoff format in January and promised it would place a greater importance on winning. It worked during the regular season, when a victory earned a driver an automatic berth in the 16-driver Chase field.
“What we’re all finding out is the strategies that are associated with competing in this new format are different, and they’re unknown and untested,” France said Friday. “Phoenix was a great example of that, where one person in Harvick won the race. But another in Ryan Newman got there in more of a consistent model, but got there nonetheless. We’ll be delighted if Ryan Newman and Richard Childress are able to pull it off. I think he’s the underdog at this point, but they kind of like that, so we’ll see how it plays.
“I think depending on what happens on Sunday, it has a chance to be one of the most successful seasons in NASCAR history.”