Second Chase comeback not to be for Jeff Gordon

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One year ago at Richmond International Raceway, Jeff Gordon put on a stellar late run to race his way into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But tonight at RIR, despite another superb effort, the four-time Cup champion lost out on a post-season berth by the narrowest of margins.

Gordon was able to make his way back into contention for a Chase spot after falling two laps down earlier in the race thanks to a vibration that was later confirmed to be a loose right-front wheel.

But the last restart of the night with three laps remaining – triggered by a caution-inducing spin from Clint Bowyer with seven laps to go – changed everything.

After the green came back, Gordon was unable to move forward and wound up finishing eighth, while Joey Logano, who had taken a wave-around under the yellow to pull within one lap of the leaders, gained three positions to 22nd.

When it was all over, Gordon had lost out to Logano for the 10th spot in the Cup championship – the final automatic bid in the Chase – by a single point.

“It wasn’t pretty, but we were getting it done until that caution came out, and you know, we still could have made it in,” said Gordon. “The [last] restart just didn’t go the way we needed it to, so that’s unfortunate.

“It’s tough. I’m just bummed for this team.  They worked so hard, and I don’t know why we’ve had the kind of rough year that we’ve had. We’re going to do everything we can to go these next 10 races and step it up and get ourselves in position to be more competitive.”

It marks just the second time since the inception of the Chase that Gordon will not be able to compete for a championship.

He led the first 49 laps of the race on Saturday, but faded afterwards. He was running 15th at the time he had to pit for the vibration. At that point, it looked as if his hopes were done, then and there.

But Gordon was able to get one of his laps back on the track, and then earned the free pass when the caution came out at Lap 268 for a spin involving David Stremme.

He went down a lap once more when Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson hit the wall with 57 laps remaining, but again got the free pass. And with Logano unable to gain positions at the time, Gordon eventually broke into the Top 10 of the standings after moving to ninth place with less than 35 laps remaining.

But the Bowyer yellow proved disastrous for him. Now, Gordon and his No. 24 team will only be racing for pride and 11th place for the remainder of the season.

Penske Acura duo of Ricky Taylor, Helio Castroneves win third straight

Ricky Taylor Helio Castroneves
IMSA
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Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves made it three consecutive victories in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, winning Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to close in on the points lead in the DPi class.

After Castroneves started on the pole position in No. 7 Acura, Taylor took the checkered flag by 0.607 seconds ahead of Felipe Nasr’s No. 31 Cadillac.

Aside from being three victories in a row for Castroneves and Taylor (who also won at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta), it was the third consecutive victory for Team Penske at Mid-Ohio, which is the home racetrack for Acura.

Penske is in its final season with Acura, which announced this week that it’ll field DPi cars with Wayne Taylor Racing and Meyer Shank Racing next season.

“I’m just proud,” Taylor told NBC Sports reporter Dillon Welch. “Helio did an amazing job at the start, kept his cool. It’s not easy starting on the outside, but he settled in, picked people off and put us in a position to jump the 31 on a stop.

“Then I felt like we were the strongest car on track when we had new tires. It was a real team effort.”

Helio Castroneves picked up Ricky Taylor and carried him several yards down the pit lane in celebration.

Helio Castroneves carries Ricky Taylor away from their No. 7 Acura while celebrating their victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (IMSA).

“This guy, I’m so proud of him,” said Castroneves, who will be returning to the NTT IndyCar Series next weekend. “The entire Team Penske, Acura, it’s a team, and today it was all about being cool.

“Last year, I had a little issue and lost my cool at the start of the race, and we threw the race away, so this time, if something happens, I know we’re going to come back, and here we are in victory circle.”

With three races remaining this season for the premier class, Castroneves and Taylor have moved to third in the standings, five points behind Renger van der Zande and Ryan Briscoe, who finished third in the No. 10 Cadillac at Mid-Ohio.

Ranked three points behind in second is Pipo Derani, who is Nasr’s teammate.

The championship race could have been tighter as Acura Penske driver Juan Pablo Montoya passed van der Zande for third after the cars banged together a few times with 10 minutes remaining.

But Montoya spun off course a few minutes later in Turn 1 and handed a podium finish back to the Wayne Taylor Racing car.

“Bashy, bashy right there,” van der Zande said. “Old school NASCAR racing, I guess. I’m not so used to that. He was very aggressive but also very very fast. It was a fantastic race for us.”

The final three races will be held at Road Atlanta, Laguna Seca and Sebring.

“It was a great third place with a lot of pressure from Montoya and Mazda and everyone really,” Briscoe said. “We’ll take the points and keep pushing. It’s so close. Can’t think too far ahead, but we’d love to get another win or two to finish out the season. There’s some really big races coming up, and this team tends to excel in the long races, so we’re looking forward to it.”

In other divisions at Mid-Ohio:

–Corvette Racing scored its first victory at the track in eight years as the No. 3 Corvette C8.R of Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia won from the pole position. Teammates Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner finished second in a class that featured only four cars because of the pullout of Porsche.

It was the fourth victory this season for the No. 3 and the fifth for Corvette, which also is 1-2 in the points standings with the No. 3 ahead by 17 points.

“It was a perfect weekend for our Corvette,” Taylor told NBC Sports’ Parker Kligerman. “The car rolled off the truck really well. This was one of the tracks where we never tested at, so the preparation by the team really set us up well. … We’ve been so strong on pace and reliability.”

Said Garcia: “It’s a shame that Porsche is not here as we want them back for sure. It was a brilliant job by everyone. Jordan did a fantastic job all day long, getting on pole and then getting a solid lead even if there were a ton of yellows. The C8.R worked perfectly again today.”

–The No. 14 Lexus of AIM Vasser Sullivan won in the GTD class, moving drivers Aaron Telitz and Jack Hawksworth to the points lead. With four races remaining, Telitz trails the No. 86 Acura by two points, and Hawksworth is four points behind.