Jeff Gordon’s steady start continues with 4th straight Top-10

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Jeff Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports team would no doubt like to have a win in the bank soon to effectively get in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

But they can’t be disappointed with how competitive they’ve been to start the season.

Gordon is now the only driver to have earned Top-10 finishes in each of the first four races of 2014 after finishing seventh in last night’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The P7 run in Thunder Valley follows a fourth in the Daytona 500, a fifth in Phoenix, and a ninth in Las Vegas.

Starting sixth, Gordon quickly moved into the Top 3 but during his first stop of the day under the Lap 50 competition caution, he made contact with David Ragan that turned the Front Row Motorsports driver sideways.

The incident caused Gordon to tumble all the way to 34th for the subsequent restart but he was able to get back within the Top 20 by the time the red flag came out for rain at Lap 124 of 500.

More than three hours later, the race returned to green-flag conditions at Lap 136 with the condition that another competition caution would occur 50 laps later at Lap 186.

But Gordon was unable to keep his forward momentum going as tire wear problems set in.

“It’s crazy – when we went back racing after the rain delay, we just completely wore out the left-front tire in just like 20 or 30 laps,” he said after the race. “I mean, we were going backwards in a hurry. [I’m thankful] for that competition caution, we fixed that and got the car better.”

Adjustments under that competition yellow enabled Gordon to claw back toward the front and break into the Top 10 by Lap 300. He would rise as high as fifth with less than 100 to go before settling in seventh.

“The car came up through there so good on four tires that we decided to put four more on [for the final stop],” he said. The [final] restart just didn’t go the way I needed it to and we never got up through there again.”

Nonetheless, his Bristol result marks the first time in Gordon’s illustrious career that he’s opened a season with four consecutive Top-10s.

Additionally, his seventh and teammate Kasey Kahne’s eighth-place result gave Hendrick Motorsports its 1,500th career Top-10 finish.

Theriault clinches ARCA title before finale at Kansas

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) There is no long, convoluted story about how Austin Theriault came to Ken Schrader Racing, forging a team that so dominated the ARCA Series that it captured the title simply by showing up for the finale.

“We both wanted something to do,” the folksy Schrader said with a smile and shrug before Friday night’s race at Kansas Speedway. “He didn’t have a car to drive and I didn’t have a driver.”

So, they solved each other’s problem.

Theriault hopped into the seat and proceeded to win seven times over the first 19 races, building such a lead on his nearest challenger that he sewed up the title at Kentucky. And that made for a rather enjoyable weekend at Kansas, where all the pressure was off their team.

Along the way, Theriault became the first driver to win at a superspeedway, short track, dirt track and road event in the same season, and he swept the superspeedway and short-track challenges.

If there was something to win, he won it.

“I hoped we’d have a shot at it and it’s proved out this year that we’ve really exceeded anybody’s expectations,” Theriault said. “We had some things to work on early. We kind of dusted off a bit, went back to work. We had some time between Daytona and the mile-and-a-halfs that came up later in the season, and we realized where we were strong and where we had to work.

“But in the end it came back to pure dedication, I think,” he explained. “The amount of time it took behind the scenes to make this happen.”

The 23-year-old driver from Fort Kent, Maine, knows something about dedication. He appeared to be on racing’s fast track, scoring a Truck Series ride a few years ago for Brad Keselowski, when a terrifying crash at Las Vegas left him with a broken back and sitting on the sidelines.

The best ride he could find last year was in the K&N Pro Series.

It was at a trade show in Indianapolis last December that Theriault ran into Schrader, who was busy putting together a team for this season. They had dinner a couple nights later and, Schrader said, it was his wife Ann who came away impressed by the yes-sir, no-sir driver.

“My wife doesn’t go to all the races,” Schrader said. “After we talked she said, `I like that guy. How good is he?’ She doesn’t know. I knew he was racing well in Keselowski’s truck, had an unfortunate wreck, had to sit out a bit. I told her, `That’s somebody who could make us very happy next year.”‘

Theriault delivered on that promise.

They weren’t the only ones happy Friday, either. Zane Smith earned his second pole of the season, beating teammate Sheldon Creed to earn the top spot for the Kansas ARCA 150, while 20-year-old Natalie Decker announced a full-time ride with Venturini Motorsports next season.

“This is obviously a big step in my career,” said Decker, who made six starts as a rookie this season. “I’m confident and ready for this next move. After tonight my focus shifts to next season. We’ll be ready to go at Daytona.”