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.

Meyer Shank Racing wins second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona to begin GTP era

Rolex 24 Meyer Shank
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Grand Touring Prototype era began just as the previous one ended as Meyer Shank Racing’s Acura captured its second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona with star Tom Blomqvist emphatically starting and finishing the race.

The No. 60 ARX-06 won the 24-hour endurance classic at Daytona International Speedway by 4.190 seconds over Filipe Albuquerque of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport, giving Acura a sweep of the top two spots.

The Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-LMDh cars took the next two spots with Renger van der Zande (the No. 01) and Earl Bamber (No. 02) as four of the nine new GTP cars finished on the lead lap within 12 seconds of each other – quashing the prerace hand-wringing of mass failures for the highly technical cars in the debut of the hybrid prototype premier category.

There were major problems for the manufacturer newcomers Porsche Penske Motorsport and BMW M Team RLL, whose two pairs of cars all finished at least a dozen laps down or more because of major mechanical problems in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.

But there were no such failures for Acura despite the manufacturer skipping any endurance testing with the new LMDh car.

It’s the third Rolex 24 at Daytona victory for co-owner Mike Shank, who won his first in 2012.

Just as he capped the 2022 season by winning the Petit Le Mans season finale in the No. 60 Acura to clinch the final championship of the DPi division for MSR, Blomqvist was behind the wheel again for his third overall victory in IMSA.

“That was crazy,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I knew we had a fantastic car. I’ve been working hard. Unbelievable. Massive, well done, everyone being part of this project and worked together on this project. What a car we’ve built.

“I was just a bit nervous. The 10 was definitely second fastest car, but we held them off.”

It was the second consecutive Rolex 24 victory for MSR’s trio of Blomqvist, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, who were joined this year by Colin Braun (winning his first Rolex 24 overall).

Castroneves joined select company in winning the Rolex 24 in three consecutive years (his first win was with Wayne Taylor Racing in 2021). Castroneves and Pagenaud are entering their second consecutive year as teammates for Meyer Shank Racing’s Dallara-Hondas in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“Can you believe that?” Castroneves told Lee. “Big props to everyone. Everyone did an amazing job. Everybody worked so hard together. We got it! Another one. I can’t believe it. This is absolutely a dream come true.”

The four-time Indy 500 winner led the team in his signature fence-climbing celebration afterward — just as he had when he finished MSR’s victory in last year’s Rolex 24 and when he won the 2021 Indy 500 for the team.

“It’s always fun to climb the fence with Helio,” said Pagenaud, who drove the second-to-last stint before Blomqvist closed it out: “The competition as amazing. It was tough out there. So much fun. Hope you had as much fun as we had. I’m going to savor this one.”

Winners in other classes were the No. 55 ORECA 07 of Proton Competition (which triumphed on a last-lap pass by James Allen on Ben Hanley), WeatherTech Racing’s No. 79 Mercedes in GTD Pro, Heart of Racing’s No. 27 Aston Martin in GTD and AWA’s No. 17 in LMP3.