After suffering a tire failure and crashing early during Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon was watching the race in his hauler as his crew feverishly worked to repair his wounded car.
He couldn’t believe what was happening.
“I was just sitting there going, ‘I can’t believe this,'” Gordon said today in a teleconference about having to comprehend that moment on Sunday. “I felt like I was in a bad dream and I was going to wake up any second. The longer the time went by, the more and more I realized this is reality.”
It’s been a rollercoaster fall for Gordon. He had initially missed out on the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but in the wake of the Richmond race manipulation scandal, he was added to the Chase as a 13th competitor. And to use parlance from another sport, he took the ball and ran with it.
He steadily rose into the Top 5 of the championship before finally claiming his first win of the season at Martinsville on Oct. 27 – a win that truly put him in the championship hunt. But on Lap 74 during Sunday’s race, his left-front tire blew out, causing him to slam into the wall.
Gordon would return to the track but not until late in the running. With a 38th-place result at Texas, his chances of attaining a fifth Sprint Cup are pretty much non-existent as he sits in sixth place at 69 points behind teammate and championship leader Jimmie Johnson.
The approach to the final two races of the season won’t change for Gordon and his team. But the goal certainly has, and they’ll have to make the most of the situation.
“I really just wanted to get to Homestead with a shot, you know, with a mathematical shot at this championship because I think we could put some pressure on them, have a shot at winning that race,” he said.
“Now, yeah, it’s, ‘Okay, how high up in points can we get?’ You’re still dealing with the same thing. It’s just one is the championship and the other one is maybe a third or fourth in points. That will all be reevaluated after we go through this next weekend’s race in Phoenix.”
Gordon stands a good shot of at least pulling into the Top 5 again by season’s end, which would be a nice accomplishment.
But he also remembers the uneven regular season that he and his team had this year, and he knows that had there been more consistent results in the first 26 races, he probably wouldn’t have needed that 13th Chase spot bestowed to him by NASCAR in the Richmond aftermath.
Still, he credited his team for its perseverance in a year that has tested them severely at times.
“We never stopped trying to make our cars better, getting me to feel that I need to go out there and have confidence in the car and have the speed,” he said. “We’ve done a great job of that.
“That’s what we’re going to take out of this year’s Chase as well, is that depending on how many changes happen for 2014, that we have a team that can fight, that can find a way to get where we need to be by the end of the season.”