TALLADEGA, Ala. – For the second time in five races, Jeff Gordon was left wrestling with the agony of leaving a Sprint Cup track empty-handed despite having a car capable of winning.
Even more frustrating was that the blame for Sunday’s squandered chance at Talladega Superspeedway squarely fell on his shoulders.
“You want to seize those opportunities,” said Gordon, who finished 31st in the Geico 500 despite the No. 24 Chevrolet leading 47 of 188 laps after starting on the pole position. “This was an opportunity for us. We had an awesome race car. I definitely feel like we had the best race car.
“Junior was good, Jimmie was good, but I felt like we were amazing. That’s frustrating. I think the most frustrating thing is making a mistake. At Martinsville, I made a mistake. Here I made a mistake. We’ve got to eliminate those mistakes when we have race cars like this, because we have an awesome race team.”
Just as in the March 29 race at Martinsville Speedway, the critical error was a speeding penalty on the final stop.
Gordon was entering the pits just before the caution flew for an engine failure in the Chevy of Austin Dillon.
As he stabbed the brakes entering the pits, he knew something immediately was wrong.
“The car wasn’t slowing down,” he said. “I don’t know if I got on the splitter, but it would not slow down. I knew I was speeding.”
NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell tweeted that Gordon was caught speeding in the first two sections, roughly 20 mph over in the first sector
“I’m not happy with myself, really,” Gordon said. “I made that mistake coming to pit road. That was a make or break moment in the race. It could have put us in the lead. Instead, we were the tail end of longest line.”
After restarting in 31st with 26 laps remaining, the four-time series champion made up some ground but still was outside the top 10 when he was caught in a last-lap crash.
Though his car had blazing speed throughout the weekend (he won the pole with a speed that left rivals slackjawed), there wasn’t an opportunity to advance when the field formed mostly into a single-file line for the final 26 laps.
“If those guys decide to go single file like that, you’re not going anywhere,” Gordon said. “I was in the middle on that final restart, making some ground up, and all of a sudden they all went outside, and that point, it was over. You’re just sitting there waiting for the white flag to come up.”
It was the Hendrick Motorsports driver’s third finish outside the top 30 in 10 races but first since the March 1 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He also started on the pole at the Daytona 500, leading 87 laps and placing 33rd.