HAMPTON, Ga.—It’s safe to say Jeff Gordon’s retirement tour has not gone according to plan.
A week ago in the Daytona 500, Gordon was involved in the wreck that forced the race to end under caution and finished 33rd.
On Sunday in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, his fortunes took a turn for the worse. Gordon was collateral damage in a Lap 257 crash that started with Denny Hamlin’s spin. The No. 24 Chevrolet collided with a section of concrete wall on the inside of the backstretch, and Gordon’s race was over.
Credited with a 41st-place finish, the four-time premier series champion heads for next Sunday’s event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway tied for 35th in the standings, 72 points behind series leader Joey Logano.
“I saw the No. 11 (Hamlin) going sideways,” Gordon said of the wreck that knocked him out of the race. “I had him cleared. I stood on the gas and went by him, but I guess he might have clipped the No. 1 (Jamie McMurray), and it turned the No. 1 back into me. After that I was just along for the ride. It looks like maybe the No. 31 (Ryan Newman) came down in trying to avoid the No. 11 and got into the No. 1 and then he clipped me in the left rear and sent me down the back straightaway.
“It wouldn’t have been too bad except that I found that one spot where there’s no SAFER barrier,” Gordon continued. “I can’t believe it. That’s amazing to me. Anyway, hopefully soon that will get fixed. It was a pretty big impact. I hate it for this team. We were struggling. We didn’t have the 3M Chevrolet that I thought we were going to have, but we weren’t giving up on it. We were going to make gains, and we finally got ourselves in the top 10, and I think we had a shot of getting into the top five. But, obviously, it’s not the way we want to start our season.”
LATE MISHAP SQUELCHES EARNHARDT’S CHANCES
Dale Earnhardt Jr. may not have had a car capable of challenging Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson late in Sunday’s race at Atlanta, but Earnhardt never got a chance to find out—thanks to an unlucky turn of events.
Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet ran over a wad of tape on the track in the late going, and the mishap adversely affected the aerodynamics of his car. As a result Earnhardt was unable to fend off Kevin Harvick in the closing laps and had to settle for his second straight third-place finish.
“It knocked the whole grill out of the car,” Earnhardt said of the debris on the track. “Just destroyed the aerodynamics of the car, and it cost me a spot to the No. 4 (Harvick). But I’ve got to tell you that my guys did a great job on pit road. They were fast all day on pit road—real consistent. We’ve got some new guys over the wall.
“(New crew chief) Greg Ives did a good job setting up the Kelly Blue Book Chevrolet. We struggled a little bit Thursday (in testing), but we got better and better each day. Our communication is really, really good. He is doing a great job cheerleading this whole team. I’m real proud of the effort the whole crew did, man. To start off like this and get some traction and have a couple of good runs is giving us some confidence and it is helping Greg out a ton.”
TURNAROUND FOR TRUEX
In the season-opening Daytona 500, Martin Truex Jr., finished eighth. On Sunday at Atlanta, he improved by two spots, running sixth in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.
The two top 10s are more than encouraging to the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, who suffered through a difficult 2014 season that saw him finished 24th in the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.
And, obviously, Truex’s association with new crew chief Cole Pearn already is starting to bear fruit.
“It was a good day for us,” Truex said after Sunday’s race. “Really proud of everybody at Furniture Row back in Denver and here at the race track. Good run. We definitely needed that to start off the year. It felt good. Really good car on the long runs, and every restart it just seemed like we kept getting in the wrong lane.
“We had guys wrecking in front of us and getting loose in front of us and spinning their tires. We had to pass a lot of cars all day. It seemed like it was the same guys all day long. In the end, we ended up in a good position. Hopefully, we can continue to build on the momentum and build on this team and keep getting better.”
MAIDEN VOYAGE FOR RAGAN
Early in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was running near the front of the field.
“I was really thrilled,” said Ragan, who brought the car home without incident. “The first 100 laps of the race, our M&M’s Crispy Camry was fast, had speed,” Ragan said. “Track position means a lot at any race, and as we fell back a little bit, I think it was a snowball effect. We just really probably were a little behind on our adjustments, and that’s probably just my inexperience with these guys (on the team) and being a little timid on making a few adjustments.
“As the track rubbered up at the halfway mark of the race, we were just way too loose, so we had to take some pretty big swings to get back, but I was happy at the end of the race. We had some good speed, but we had lost too much ground. All in all, a good weekend. We learned a lot, brought the car back in one piece, but we can run better than that. I felt like we had a good, solid top-10 car and things just didn’t shake out.”