Close again for Jeff Gordon at Sonoma: third runner-up finish in last four races

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Jeff Gordon spent the first few years of his life just a stone’s throw away from Sonoma Raceway, in nearby Vallejo, California.

It was at that same Sonoma track that Gordon began to get an appreciation for what would eventually become his life’s work, that of a race car driver.

And even though he moved to Indiana for his teens and to pursue those racing dreams, Gordon has never forgotten how much of a factor Sonoma played in his development.

It’s a place he’s always enjoyed returning to and, more often than not, he ends up with a good showing – just like Sunday’s runner-up finish in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

Gordon, who leads all active Cup drivers with five wins at the twisting and turning road course in California’s wine country, almost made it six triumphs Sunday, but came up just a little bit short to eventual winner Carl Edwards.

Had it not been an uncharacteristic late error by Gordon in the race, he very well may have made it a half-dozen victories, he explained to TNT in a post-race interview.

“With five or six laps to go, I was making some ground up on Carl,” Gordon said on TNT. “I was really good in the fast sections and he was pretty good in the slow sections, so I just happened to hit everything so perfect.

“I just overdrove it going into (turn) four one time and went real wide off and that gave him enough of a gap that I had to close it back in.”

Gordon did an excellent job of closing that gap one last time and appeared he would catch Edwards on the final turn – turn 11 – on the final lap.

Unfortunately for Gordon, Edwards threw the block and rather than run the risk of wrecking out both drivers, Gordon backed off and settled for a still excellent runner-up finish.

“I just couldn’t put enough pressure on him,” Gordon said of Edwards. “I saw him struggling with the grip level, but he drove a clean race, did everything he needed to do.

“That last lap, I gave it my best effort and closed up on him. I just drove into 11 as hard as I could, we weren’t good into 11 anyway, he didn’t overdrive it. I was hoping he might slide it and I could get a run underneath him, but overall a great weekend. We had a great car in the race.”

Thanks to his 14th career top-5 at Sonoma (in 22 starts), Gordon remains atop the Sprint Cup standings.

Ironically, Gordon could actually be at 10 wins at Sonoma: he’s finished second now in three of the last four Sprint Cup races there, in addition to two other second-place runs there earlier in his career.

But the veteran driver will take another great run and move forward.

“I love racing here, I love being competitive, leading the points and having a shot at winning races,” Gordon said. “We’re having fun.”

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.