Late-race gamble nearly pays off for Jeff Gordon in Texas
Just as it appeared Joey Logano was going to lead Team Penske to a 1-2 finish in Monday’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, a debris caution flew with two laps to go and changed the entire complexion of the race.
Taking advantage of the opportunity, Jeff Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson brought the No. 24 Chevrolet to pit road with the rest of the leaders, but opted for only two tires.
Leading the field off pit road, Gordon looked to earn his first win of the 2014 season by using a bit of strategy.
Gordon was able to maintain the lead on the initial restart, but was unable to hold off the hard-charging Logano. With the No. 22 Ford getting by on the final lap, Gordon was forced to settle for second.
"I feel very fortunate to finish second," Gordon said following the race. "Joey was the class of the field there the second half of the race. I knew it was going to be hard to hold those guys off. I got a pretty good restart, so I was happy about that. Got through (Turns) one and two. I was shocked I was leading off of two, to be honest. I wish I would have run a little bit higher down three and four. I’m sure Joey was going to go wherever I didn’t. Probably would have been a little bit better off on the top.
"Then he crossed over and got into the back of me pretty good. At that point I was just thinking, I just want to finish," he said. "Looked out my mirror, those guys were racing hard behind me. A great second-place finish for me."
While he missed out on the win, the second-place finish was better than where the team had been running throughout the race. As the Penske cars were the class of the field, Gordon spent much of Monday’s race battling with rookie sensation Kyle Larson in the top 10.
Taking the risk on the final stop of the day, Gordon and the No. 24 team nearly scored the win and left Texas with momentum and confidence on their side.
With his runner-up finish — and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s bad day — Gordon heads to Darlington Raceway as the points leader. This is the first time the four-time series champion has led the series standings since May 2009.
Leading the points is not enough for the Hendrick Motorsports driver, though. With NASCAR’s new Chase format placing a larger emphasis on wins, Gordon knows he needs to find victory lane.
"The pressure’s always there to win. You always want to win," he said. "Winning benefits you whether it’s this points system or any other points system. Winning is the ultimate. That’s what we are all out there to do. It’s important to be consistent because that helps get you in a position more often to win."