Jeff Gordon: Mix of aggression, finesse key to Martinsville success

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Jeff Gordon knows a thing or two about what it takes to win at Martinsville Speedway, seeing as he’s done so in Sprint Cup competition eight times over the course of his career.

Gordon’s most recent triumph at NASCAR’s oldest track came last fall in the Chase and as you’d figure, it’s given him confidence as the series returns to the paperclip this weekend for the STP 500.

His approach differs from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, another eight-time winner at Martinsville: Attack on the restarts, but then remain deliberate and show patience.

“You have to be aggressive on restarts and that is just in general to where we go these days,” he said before qualifying today. “There are some tracks that I feel I have done a good job with that and others that I haven’t. For me, this track is about finesse. This track is about patience. If it comes down to a late caution then I think yes, it comes down to aggressiveness but also what line you are in.

“You want to be in that inside line and if you are in that outside lane then you can be as aggressive as you want but it’s not going to do a whole lot for you to get down and into that inside lane.”

Gordon enters Martinsville after having his Top-10 streak to begin the year snapped at four races last weekend at Fontana.

He was in position to win the race late after teammate Jimmie Johnson suffered a tire failure while leading with seven laps left, but a caution came out with two laps to go after Clint Bowyer suffered his own failure and spun.

That sent the leaders to the pits, where Gordon lost track position after a four-tire stop. He fell back further when the race entered the green-white-checkered finish, and settled for 13th.

Afterwards, Gordon criticized Goodyear for not being prepared for the situation. During the week, he had a tire test at the Sonoma Raceway road course in California but he said today that he did not speak to the manufacturer about the Fontana matter.

“No, I’m too mad at them to have a discussion with them about that right now,” he admitted. “I went and did everything I could to put the best test together that I could there to learn what we could to go to Sonoma and win.

“Tires aren’t an issue there when it comes to that type of situation we had at Fontana. I did not discuss it with them.”

He then conceded that “we all play a role in it,” but noted that the teams’ aggressive setups was what it was going to take for them to win races.

“…If no tire test happens at [Fontana,] then I think that I would question why not,” he said.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.