INDIANAPOLIS – Jeff Gordon sailed down the frontstretch of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and keyed the radio as he finished his final qualifying lap at this historic track.
The five-time Brickyard 400 champion asked his team how the lap was because it felt good.
Silence was shattered by bad news.
He wasn’t fast enough to advance to the second round of qualifying Saturday. Gordon’s groan on the radio matched that of the fans in his adopted hometown when his No. 24 did not come close to the top of the scoring pylon.
“That one was on me,’’ Gordon said afterward. “It wasn’t the car. It wasn’t like the balance was off or anything. I just needed to be in the throttle harder. I just really underestimated the amount of grip that was out there.’’
At a track where passing is difficult and starting position is critical, Gordon will make his final Brickyard 400 start from 19th. No driver has come from as far back to win this race since 2005 when Tony Stewart won from the 22nd starting spot.
“The trickiest part just began,’’ Gordon said. “You needed to qualify up front. Starting there is not going to be fun.’’
NASCAR introduced a high-drag package – including a 9-inch spoiler – to induce more passing at this track. The package is intended to allow a trailing car to suck up to the back of another car on Indianapolis’ long straightaways but drivers say their cars are not reacting as expected.
Cars typically are tight behind another but drivers say the cars have been loose at Indy and that’s caught them off guard.
“It’s going to be really crazy out there,’’ Gordon said. “The little bit of time I spent behind cars, it was a handful through the corners. Restarts are going to be wild and crazy.’’
This marks the first time since 2009 that Gordon has started outside the top 10 at Indy. He won this race in 2001 after starting 27th – the deepest in the field a winner has started – so it’s possible but it won’t be easy.
“Just because we’re qualifying further back than we wanted doesn’t mean we can’t get it done (Sunday),’’ Gordon said.