By John Sturbin, Special to the NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Revived by a victory one week ago at Martinsville Speedway, Jeff Gordon's bid for a fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship slammed to a halt in the Turn 1 wall at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon.
A blown left front tire sent Gordon's No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS into the wall on Lap 75 of the AAA Texas 500, Round 8 of the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Gordon began the day in third, 27 points behind co-leaders Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing and Jimmie Johnson, Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports teammate.
Gordon's pre-race deficit already had stamped his championship chance as "slim." Sunday's wall-banger downgraded that chance to "none" even as his crew scrambled to repair the car's extensively damaged front clip. Gordon, who started eighth, returned to the race on Lap 260 of the scheduled 334-lapper and finished 38th -- the same start/finish numbers he posted during the April Texas race.
Johnson led 255 laps en route to his sixth victory of the season in the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet SS, outrunning HMS teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 AMP Energy Gold/7-Eleven Chevy by a comfortable 4.390 seconds. Joey Logano of Penske Racing finished third in the No. 22 AAA Ford Fusion, while Kenseth overcame a pit-road speeding violation to place fourth. Johnson now leads Kenseth by seven points (2,342-2,335) with two races remaining.
Gordon, meanwhile, earned six points and now sits sixth, 69 points behind Johnson and seven in back of Junior.
"You just can't have things like this happen if you are going to make a run at a championship or battle with those guys," said Gordon, whose victory over Kenseth on the .526-mile Martinsville oval had moved him from fifth to third in the standings. "We had a great race car. We just didn't take off good on the restarts, but once we got going by eight to 10 laps into it, boy, were we really strong."
The restarts Gordon referenced were for cautions on Lap 16 for debris in Turn 4 and Lap 58 when Kyle Busch scraped the Turn 3 wall with the right side of his No. 18 Snickers Toyota Camry. Gordon then brought out caution No. 3.
"I just know that the left front went down as I was going down the front straightaway," said Gordon, who qualified on Friday at 195.171 mph around the high-banked, 1.5-mile quad-oval. "I felt it before I got there, and I just couldn't get it slowed down enough. I don't know; the wind was so strong that the car was doing funky things down the straightaways. I don't know if that was a slow leak, or if it just went all of a sudden."
About an hour after the crash, a Goodyear Racing spokesman reported that Gordon's tire "somehow lost air," as there were no obvious cuts in the tread. In Gordon's case, the spokesman said the sidewall over-deflected and separated at the belt edge and lost pressure.
Teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series have been running the same Goodyear tire codes this weekend. In the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, this is the same Goodyear Eagle combination of left- and right-side tires that all teams ran at TMS earlier this season -- NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide in April and NASCAR Camping World Truck in June. In the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series, teams have run this left-side tire code (D-4392) at TMS since 2011, although it was paired with this right-side tire code (D-4418) this season.
While this right-side code is unique to TMS, the left-side code also has been run by NASCAR teams at Chicagoland Speedway (all three series) and Darlington Raceway (NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide). It also will be the tire of choice at Homestead-Miami Speedway (all three series) later this month.
Gordon was running 10th following his pit stop during the second caution period, and was already dealing with a car that did not take off well on either of the first two restarts.
"We just needed to get some better track position; get on the inside on those restarts, and we actually had a really, really good race car," said Gordon, who was 12th on Lap 74. He reiterated the tire did not give him "enough of a warning, that's for sure.
"That was odd. But the wind was buffeting and blowing so strong, the cars are moving around anyway. Just before I got to Turn 1, I felt it go down. I did everything I could to slow it down. I even had time to come on the radio and say 'Uh-oh.' Well, I might have not said that, I said something else. I knew I was going to hit the wall."
Gordon, who scored his lone win at TMS in the spring 2009 race, logged last-place finishes here in 1999 and spring 2008. During his most recent championship season of 2001, Gordon started ninth and finished fifth during TMS' lone NASCAR Sprint Cup event.
On Friday, Gordon acknowledged the difficulty in trying to cut into his point deficit to Kenseth, the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, and five-time champ Johnson. "Those guys make very few mistakes," Gordon said.
The penultimate race of the Chase will be run next Sunday on the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway. Gordon speculated Friday he would need to be within 10 or 12 points of the frontrunners heading into the season finale on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 17.
"That would be pretty exciting," Gordon said.
Instead, Sir Jeff returned to "The Great American Speedway!" in a patched-up car that finished 187 laps down to JJ.
"It's so unfortunate," Gordon said. "This is definitely going to hurt. This Drive to End Hunger No. 24 team has done such an amazing job. I'm so proud of them to get us where we are. We just get what we can out of this day and go on to Phoenix."