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.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.