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.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Sebastien Bourdais

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. A dream start occurred for Sebastien Bourdais and the Dale Coyne Racing team upon their reunion, followed by a nightmare in Indianapolis with a huge crash in qualifying, and ended with a rapid recovery to build confidence for 2018.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2016: 14th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 24 Laps Led, 11.9 Avg. Start, 11.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 21st Place (8 Starts), 1 Win, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 74 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 11.0 Avg. Finish

The 2017 campaign for Sebastien Bourdais upon his return to Dale Coyne Racing will forever be known as both a year of “what could have been” and a year of “what a comeback it was.”

The abnormal season for Bourdais stretched eight races with a three-month break in the middle owing to his own mistake qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which left him with multiple pelvic fractures and a fracture to his right hip. His car was a rocket ship; but after two laps at 231 mph, Bourdais appeared to over-correct and destroyed the wall at Turn 2 in Indy in a massive 127G impact. It was a horrific looking accident, but one that also saw Bourdais rather lucky to have not been injured worse.

It set forth in motion an incredible recovery that saw Bourdais back testing the Monday after Mid-Ohio, just over two months since the accident, then in race action just over three months later at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval, and because Bourdais is a regulation badass, he finished in the top-10 straight out of the box. He worked as hard as he did to return earlier than anticipated to avoid an offseason of questions asking if he’d come back and if he’d be strong enough to do so.

The recovery was a welcome story to end the year after the agony at Indy that stopped a potential title run or certainly top-five in points finish in its tracks. A classic Coyne strategy special vaulted Bourdais from last to first and a popular win in his U.S. hometown of St. Petersburg to kick off the year. A second place at Long Beach backed it up and eighth at Barber kept him atop the standings.

But Indy was shaping up to be an important bounce back weekend after Bourdais got taken out in Phoenix, then incurred an engine failure in the IMS road course race. And then, of course, his loud and violent accident qualifying for the ‘500 changed the course of the season.

After three “almost there” but largely unfulfilling years at KV Racing Technology, Bourdais embraced the family atmosphere back at Coyne along with longtime engineers Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, determined to continue punching above the team’s weight. He crafted a remarkable story all season and will be keen to fulfill it over the course of a proper full campaign in 2018.