First loser: Despite finishing second at Phoenix, Gordon is out of Chase
AVONDALE, Ariz. — Jeff Gordon entered Sunday’s Chase elimination race at Phoenix International Raceway knowing he likely needed a win in order to advance to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Unfortunately for the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports he came up one spot short and will not race for the Sprint Cup title next week.
Finishing second to fellow Chase driver Kevin Harvick, Gordon ended the day tied in points with Harvick, but in scoring the victory Harvick automatically locked himself in the Championship 4. As a result of that and a last-lap pass by Ryan Newman of Kyle Larson, Gordon ended up narrowly missing the cutoff to advance to the final round.
"It’s tough to swallow that two secondâplace finishes and staring down a potential win or at least top five last week that we didn’t get it done," said Gordon, making reference to a flat tire and wreck he suffered on a green-white-checkered finish the previous race at Texas. "You know, to perform as well as we did in this round — and I was looking forward to this round for a long time, you know, ever since they announced this Chase — and we started having a good year, I was looking forward to hopefully being in this round because I felt like this was a round where we could really shine, and we did. But it still wasn’t enough."
Gordon still had a chance to advance into the Championship 4 on points in the closing laps, but a bold move by Newman on the final lap sealed the deal and kept Gordon from advancing.
Racing hard with Larson for the 11th spot, Newman drove hard into Turn 3, made contact with Larson and shoved the No. 42 Chevrolet up the track, making the much-needed pass and as a result knocking Gordon out of Chase contention.
Despite the disappointment, Gordon said he had no issue with Newman’s last lap move under Larson.
"It was acceptable last week, it’s acceptable this week," he said. "I mean, don’t think that that’s not going to come back to you, you know. I mean, I could have taken out Harvick, too, to make it in, but I didn’t."
The frustration for Gordon came one week after late-race contact with Brad Keselowski at Texas Motor Speedway dropped Gordon from a potential win back to the 29th spot when the checkered flag fell.
After the race, Gordon and his crew scuffled with Keselowski and his crew. Not advancing Sunday in Phoenix, Gordon says he hopes his effort taught a lesson to his fellow competitors.
"I hope we taught somebody that you can race clean and still go out there and give it your best, that you don’t have to wreck people to make it in the Chase or win the championship," said Gordon. "I’m afraid it was that ugly the last couple of weeks, it’s going to get real ugly next week.
"This makes last week hurt that much more," he said. "We did everything we could at Martinsville, we did everything we could here, and second just wasn’t good enough. Harvick was in another zip code. There was nobody that was going to get him today. We did a great job finishing second. I’m not happy about it, but at the same time I’m real proud of what we’ve done this year."
While he has been eliminated from title contention, Gordon says he’s still a fan of the new Chase format. But he does have his concerns.
"I mean, I like it. I do," said Gordon. "I’m a little concerned where it could go with ââ just like last week we found out on pit road where the line is drawn and when you cross over that line, and I think that it could get to that on the racetrack, as well. I don’t necessarily know that it has gotten there yet, but it’s certainly possible.
"I think it’s incredibly intense," he said. "This is the most interest we’ve had in this sport in a long time, so obviously it’s been good. I feel like the only disappointing thing or the only thing I don’t like right now is the fact that I’m not in it next week."
With no shot at the championship next week, Gordon is looking to spoil the Chase party and score the win next weekend at Homestead.
"We’ll try to go win Homestead and end this season on a positive note," said the four-time champion.