Jeff Gordon’s steady start continues with 4th straight Top-10

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Jeff Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports team would no doubt like to have a win in the bank soon to effectively get in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

But they can’t be disappointed with how competitive they’ve been to start the season.

Gordon is now the only driver to have earned Top-10 finishes in each of the first four races of 2014 after finishing seventh in last night’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The P7 run in Thunder Valley follows a fourth in the Daytona 500, a fifth in Phoenix, and a ninth in Las Vegas.

Starting sixth, Gordon quickly moved into the Top 3 but during his first stop of the day under the Lap 50 competition caution, he made contact with David Ragan that turned the Front Row Motorsports driver sideways.

The incident caused Gordon to tumble all the way to 34th for the subsequent restart but he was able to get back within the Top 20 by the time the red flag came out for rain at Lap 124 of 500.

More than three hours later, the race returned to green-flag conditions at Lap 136 with the condition that another competition caution would occur 50 laps later at Lap 186.

But Gordon was unable to keep his forward momentum going as tire wear problems set in.

“It’s crazy – when we went back racing after the rain delay, we just completely wore out the left-front tire in just like 20 or 30 laps,” he said after the race. “I mean, we were going backwards in a hurry. [I’m thankful] for that competition caution, we fixed that and got the car better.”

Adjustments under that competition yellow enabled Gordon to claw back toward the front and break into the Top 10 by Lap 300. He would rise as high as fifth with less than 100 to go before settling in seventh.

“The car came up through there so good on four tires that we decided to put four more on [for the final stop],” he said. The [final] restart just didn’t go the way I needed it to and we never got up through there again.”

Nonetheless, his Bristol result marks the first time in Gordon’s illustrious career that he’s opened a season with four consecutive Top-10s.

Additionally, his seventh and teammate Kasey Kahne’s eighth-place result gave Hendrick Motorsports its 1,500th career Top-10 finish.

Marvin Musquin’s Indy win may have come too late

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Marvin Musquin answered one question at Indianapolis last week, but the biggest one may well plague him for the next six weeks.

Musquin has won a battle, but can he win the war?

After standing on the podium in eight of the first 10 races, Musquin finally showed the field he was capable of winning in Indy when he grabbed the holeshot and led every lap on the way to Victory Lane. He was never seriously challenged and it was the Musquin that Supercross fans expected to see all season.

It was a long time coming. Musquin must have felt like victory was just around the corner after finishing second in the overall standings in Anaheim II’s Triple Crown race. He was third in the first Main that night and second in the last two Mains.

As it turned out, that single race defined his season until last week. Musquin stood on the podium all night, but he finished two spots behind Cooper Webb in the first Main and was one spot back in the second. It was only as time ran out that he was able to beat Webb by a single spot in the third Main. If Musquin had won either of the first two Mains, he would have had the overall victory – denying Webb his first career win in the process.

Webb’s Anaheim win revitalized the rider and gave him the confidence to rattle off four more wins in the next seven races.

Meanwhile, Musquin scored podium finishes in the next seven races, making him almost perfect. In another season, a record like that would have been enough to give him a comfortable points lead. In 2019, he sit 14 markers out of first, which is the points’ equivalent of the difference between first and 11th in one race. In other words, Webb cannot lose the points lead at Seattle unless he finishes outside the top 10 while his teammate wins.

Looking at the numbers another way the scenario is not quite as hopeless. Musquin needs to shave only 2.3 points off Webb’s lead each week to win the championship. Three points separate first and second. Five points differentiates first from third, which is where Webb finished in Indianapolis. Webb is vulnerable as his 10th-place finish at Glendale and an eighth at San Diego attest.

Those bobbles came early and Webb seems to have forgotten how to make a mistake.

A third-place is Webb’s worst finish in the last six weeks and since Anaheim II when Musquin started his impressive string of podium finishes, Webb has recorded an average finish of 2.2. That came with a worst finish of eighth on an extremely muddy and heavy track in San Diego. Musquin has a worst finish of only sixth, but his average of 2.8 still lags behind Webb.

Worse still, since Anaheim II Musquin has finished behind Webb in every race except for the outlier of San Diego.

It is no longer a question of keeping pressure on Webb. Musquin cannot expect his teammate to make a mistake; he has to find a way to pass him on the track. If Webb adds only two points to his lead at Seattle, Musquin’s fate would no longer be in his hands. He would need to gain 3.2 points per race. With that scenario, Webb could finish one spot behind Musquin every week and still win the championship.