Las Vegas NASCAR Notebook: Milestones For Jeff Gordon Have Special Importance In Final Year

(NASCAR Wire Service)

By Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Jeff Gordon (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jeff Gordon (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

LAS VEGAS, Nev.—Don’t underestimate the importance of career milestones for Jeff Gordon, as the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet makes his final tour around the speedways that are home to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Gordon crossed off an item from his checklist on Friday afternoon when he won the pole for Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Vegas was one of three tracks where Gordon had never before qualified on the pole.

Now only Kansas and Kentucky remain.

Unfortunately, Gordon won’t start from the front row on Sunday, thanks to a late accident in Saturday’s final practice that will force him to start from the rear of the field in a backup car.

Gordon, however, still gets credit for the pole and he can take solace in the knowledge that the first- and second-place finishers in last week’s Atlanta race came from the back of the field.

As Gordon acknowledged on Friday, the biggest career objective he can attain—other than winning a fifth championship—is taking a checkered at Kentucky Speedway, the only remaining active Sprint Cup track where he hasn’t won a race.

Gordon’s last shot will come July 11, when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits the 1.5-mile track in the Bluegrass State for the fifth time. More immediately, a Sunday victory at Las Vegas, where Gordon’s lone win came in his last championship season (2001), would be enormously satisfying.

“One of my big goals this year is to win at Kentucky because I want to check off every track on the circuit and, to me, that win (at Las Vegas) in ’01 was a big checkmark, because I know how difficult it is to win here,” Gordon said.

“Obviously it’s difficult; I haven’t done it since 2001. So, it’s a tough place and I’m very proud to have that win.”

A shoo-in first-ballot Hall of Famer as soon as he’s eligible, Gordon is locked into third all-time in both career wins (92) and poles (78). Realistically, he won’t catch David Pearson, who is second in both categories with 105 victories and 113 poles.

But fans at New Hampshire Motor Speedway can look forward to another milestone later this year.

Assuming Gordon doesn’t miss any races between now and then, he will break Ricky Rudd’s record for consecutive starts (788) in the New Hampshire Chase race in September. The four-time champion hasn’t missed a race since his debut in the Cup series in November 1992.

The odds of Gordon winning at Las Vegas got considerably longer in the last minute of final Sprint Cup practice on Saturday. Danica Patrick spun in front of Gordon, who sustained damaged to the right front of the 24 Chevy, necessitating the move to the backup car.


A long-time advocate for lower downforce on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars, Carl Edwards like the direction of the new competition package, which features a smaller spoiler

Now he hopes NASCAR will go accelerate the trend.

“I believe that I’m on the same page with everyone—NASCAR, the drivers, the fans—we all want to see the best racing on the race track,” Edwards said. “The question is how exactly do we get that. The way I understand it, Gene Stefanyshyn (NASCAR senior vice president for innovation and racing development) and everyone at NASCAR is going through the process of trying to remove a little bit of downforce and to make the cars race better.

“I’m hoping that there’s more of that in the future, because what’s happening is, as you remove horsepower, there’s just less time off the throttle and eventually if you keep taking more horsepower away and the teams keep finding more and more downforce, it will be impossible to pass.

“So NASCAR has to stay ahead of that curve. They’re working on it. We tested a package that is even lower downforce than this and I hope and pray every day that that’s the direction we go, because I believe that’s what the fans deserve. I think that’s what’s going to provide the best racing and NASCAR has been headed that direction.”

Fans are slated to get their first preview of the initial version of the 2016 competition package at the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.


Subbing for injured Kyle Busch, David Ragan will give up his 13th-place starting position in the Kobalt 400 and start from the rear in a backup car after slapping the outside wall late in final practice, just moments before Jeff Gordon’s accident with Danica Patrick sidelined the primary No. 24 car.

Last week’s Atlanta winner, Jimmie Johnson, led both Saturday Sprint Cup practices, running 191.891 mph in the first session and 187.637 mph in warmer conditions in final practice.

Relatively speaking, reigning series champion Kevin Harvick was considerably faster in race trim than he was during qualifying. Harvick, who will start 18th on Sunday, was third fastest in Saturday’s morning practice and fifth fastest in the final session, a good omen for Sunday’s race.

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