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.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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