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.