WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – After resuscitating his Chase for the Sprint Cup bid a week earlier, Jeff Gordon found himself back on the ropes Sunday at Watkins Glen International.
The four-time Sprint Cup champion was victimized by a leaking brake line early in the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen, necessitating an unscheduled pit stop that left his No. 24 Chevrolet four laps down because of repairs.
Gordon finished 41st and dropped two spots in the points standings to 12th.
“It’s disappointing,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “Right now, I feel we can’t afford to have these finishes if we’re going to make the Chase.
“Just when you think you get something that goes your way, and something like this happens. We keep fighting and digging and trying to get the finishes we need to get solidly in there.”
After a 42nd at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Gordon had seemed to shore up his playoff hopes with a third last Sunday at Pocono Raceway, but his career-worst finish at Watkins Glen (where he has four wins) left him on the bubble of being left out of the Chase for the first time in 10 years and only the second time in his career.
With Kyle Busch moving into Chase for the Sprint Cup eligibility with his runner-up finish Sunday, there are 11 Chase berths currently slated for winners. That leaves five for winless drivers, and Gordon is ranked third among that group – eight points ahead of Clint Bowyer, who is on the cutoff line.
There is a cushion of 50 points to the next winless driver (Aric Almirola), but Sunday proved that gap can evaporate in a hurry, and the playoff picture immediately would be jumbled by a new winner, too.
If there’s a consolation for Gordon, it’s that his team is running well. He has top 10s in four of the past six races, and he qualified fifth before disaster struck Sunday.
“We need to improve performance-wise, but I think our performance is not bad,” Gordon said. “Right now it’s the unknown. The concerns of freak things happening like what happened at Indy (and) what happened here.
“Those are things out of your control. We’re all about the things you can control. From that standpoint, we’re trying to improve the performance of the car slightly. We’re not far off, though.”