Jeff Gordon comes into Sunday’s race squarely on the bubble, sitting fourth in points, one point ahead of Matt Kenseth.
AVONDALE, Ariz. – What in the world was Jeff Gordon seeking when he confronted Brad Keselowski in the heat of the moment following last week’s late-race incident in Texas that left bodies and title hopes bloodied?
“Just to have a conversation to discuss it,” Gordon said following practice for the Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500 (on ESPN at 3 p.m. ET). “When it ruins your day, you want someone to have a little bit of sympathy. It doesn’t mean you have to take back what you did. It just means you have to understand what it did to the other person.”
No such communication was forthcoming from Keselowski, who aggressively shot the gap during an attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, cutting down Gordon’s tire in the process and relegating the four-time champion to a 29th-place finish.
...when you don’t win the race and you ruin (the other) person’s day, there are consequences that you’re going to have to deal with.
Gordon conceded that if his tire had not gone flat and he’d salvaged a decent finish, the altercation likely would never have occurred.
“I have no issue with the guy being aggressive and making a bold move,” Gordon said. “If you win the race and the guy that you slammed finishes third or fourth or something, I’ll be the first one to say, ‘That was awesome. That was a great move.’ But when you don’t win the race and you ruin (the other) person’s day, there are consequences that you’re going to have to deal with.”
Gordon suggested Friday that another former champion might have handled the situation differently than Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup champ.
“I got wrecked a couple times by Dale Earnhardt Sr.,” Gordon recalled, “and the first thing he did was try to put his arm around you and say ‘Hey man, I didn’t’ mean to do that.’ He’d try to apologize. And, while you didn’t necessarily believe him, it had an effect.
“Most of the time with Dale you thought it was your fault. You caused it. And he was pretty good at (making you believe) that. But if it was his fault, he had his way – usually with a bit of humor – to ease your concerns.
We are certainly highly-motivated and excited about our chances.
“I don’t’ believe you’re out there trying to make friend,” Gordon said, “but you’re not out there to try to make enemies. Nobody needs enemies. That doesn’t help you win races and championships.”
In hindsight, Gordon said he wouldn’t have done much differently on the track, other than try to get a better restart. He defended his decision to choose the outside lane on the ill-fated restart, noting that he’d used that line to pass Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson on the previous restart.
“I didn’t choose the inside because I thought Brad would possibly do even more,” he said. “I still feel like the outside was the right place. Knowing what I know now, would I have ventured to the inside a little bit more to run a tighter line? Ya, I guess so.”
As it was, Gordon left just enough space for Keselowski to make his daring move, darting between Gordon and Johnson, the eventual race winner, on the inside.
“I never imagined someone would think that was a realistic move (to shoot the gap),” Gordon said. “ Was there a big enough gap? Ya, for a very split second. Did I think it was worth doing it? No, because I think I would have known what the results were going to be.”
Additionally, Gordon said his post-race altercation with Keselowski was nothing like his run-in with Clint Bowyer in 2012 at Phoenix where he purposely spun out the title contender, precipitating Bowyer’s infamous dash through the garage area in pursuit of Gordon.
“That wasn’t racing,” Gordon said. “There’s big difference between racing side-by-side and going for an opportunity. That was something that spilled over from being taken out of a race at Martinsville, contact being made after that, and an incident that happened here (in Phoenix) that caused me to lose it.”
Gordon said the aspect of last Sunday’s incident that he regrets the most was the involvement of his crew members, three of whom were fined and suspended by NASCAR. Dwayne Doucette and Jason Ingle drew six-race suspensions, Dean Mozingo a three-race suspension.
“That’s the only regret that I have, because it got them in a situation to be suspended,” Gordon said. “Those guys were there to protect me. I believe 100 percent that they weren’t there to fight. They were there to make sure I was safe.”
Gordon acknowledged that losing three teammates at this critical juncture “is going to affect us.” But the 24 team is buoyed by its fifth-place finish at Phoenix (its best in its last six PIR starts) in March and its solid test on the mile track.
Gordon comes into Sunday’s race squarely on the bubble, sitting fourth in points, one point ahead of Matt Kenseth.
“It’s not going to be easy,” predicted Gordon, who has 21 top-10 finishes in 31 career Cup starts at PIR. “This team doesn’t seem to like to do anything the easy way. But we are certainly highly-motivated and excited about our chances.”
Seth Livingstone - NASCAR News Service