Jeff Gordon has been through his share of nasty wrecks in his NASCAR career. But none in recent memory compares to the lick he and his No. 24 Chevy took one year ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Gordon was fighting with Matt Kenseth for second place on a restart with five laps remaining in the Sprint Cup Series UAW-Dodge 400 when his car pushed up the racetrack into Kenseth exiting Turn 2. The contact sent Kenseth’s car spinning across the track and Gordon, in an effort to avoid Kenseth’s No. 17 Ford, also spun and the front of his car hit the inside retaining wall on the backstretch at just more than 100 mph. The impact nearly tore off the front portion of Gordon’s car and sent pieces, including his radiator, flying all over the track.
Gordon exited his car under his own power, but the crash reminded fans, media and track officials alike that violent crashes and safety measures in and outside the car can’t be taken for granted.
Gordon was lucky he wasn’t injured because where his car hit there was no SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier, the “soft wall” that is designed to absorb energy released when a race car collides with the wall. For some reason, LVMS officials hadn’t thought to install SAFER barrier along the inside wall on the 1,700-foot backstretch.
“To be honest, I never noticed that area of the track before last year,” Gordon said in a release this week. “The first time I noticed it was when I was about to slam into it. But I’m not so concerned about it going back. ... I’m sure at some point during the weekend I’ll glance over at the new wall when I’m driving down the backstretch to see what they’ve done.”
With the roll Gordon’s been on lately, he doesn’t need to spend too much time thinking about the wall or last year’s accident. The four-time Sprint Cup champion still has a 43-race losing streak to snap, but if last week is any indication, he’ll find Victory Lane soon. Maybe in Sunday’s Shelby 427.
Well, that is if Kenseth will let someone else win this year.
Gordon, who won in Las Vegas in 2001 and has five top-five finishes in 11 starts at the track, finished second to Kenseth last weekend on the challenging 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
“I have so much respect for Matt,” Gordon told the media after the race. “ We’ve had our differences over time, but I’ve always had a ton of respect for what kind of race car driver he is. ... You can say that the pit crew won him the race (Sunday night), but Matt didn’t make one mistake.
“I put a lot of heat on him. I drove as hard as I’ve driven in a long time. He didn’t make any mistakes.”
Gordon leapt up 10 spots in the Cup standings to second after Sunday’s result. He’s been the class of Hendrick Motorsports so far and the class of the Chevy camp as well.
And he has some bad news for the rest of the competition. He’s feeling better mentally and physically than in past years.
“I’ve worked harder over this off-season getting myself in shape than I have in a long time,” said Gordon, who made the Chase last season, but finished seventh. “I’m refocused. I’m a little bit more used to being a dad now. I’m just ready.”
And you can be sure his daughter Ella will be in Victory Lane when he breaks that pesky streak.
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