Jeff Gordon makes strong ‘Drive For Five’ start, also has high praise for Kyle Larson in Chase opener

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JOLIET, Ill. – In the first race of the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Jeff Gordon took the first step in his “Drive For Five” – and put his best foot forward.

Gordon, who has been seeking his fifth Sprint Cup championship for the last 13 seasons, started the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a strong statement, finishing second to race winner Brad Keselowski.

“We had a pretty solid day,” Gordon said. “We started eighth, were able to drive up into the top two or three fairly early in the race. I knew we had a solid car. … That’s the way you want to get this thing started.”

Gordon leaves Chicagoland just seven points behind Keselowski, who remains the No. 1 seed with now nine races remaining in the Chase.

While he was chasing Keselowski in the closing laps, Gordon also engaged in an outstanding battle for second place with rookie driver Kyle Larson, who had been battling Kevin Harvick for the lead several laps earlier.

“Oh my gosh, I was having a pretty good time watching (Larson) and Kevin (Harvick) go at it in front of me,” Gordon said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I thought for sure there was going to be a wreck.

“But that’s just two guys that are wheeling it. I’m really proud of Kyle Larson. Man, what a great effort, such a young talent. I really wanted to see him win that race because I like him, but I didn’t want to see those other guys win it either.”

Gordon made a very classy move immediately after the race. As soon as he emerged from his race car, he walked over to Logano to congratulate him and also offer words of encouragement to comfort the disappointment Larson was feeling for coming up short yet again of his first career Sprint Cup win.

“I just told him how proud I am of him,” Gordon said. “I think this kid is the real deal. He’s going to be a star in this series for a long time. I really wanted to see him win because I like him and I know he’s going to win a lot of races, but I also didn’t want to see those other guys win.

“I’m a big fan. I like seeing young guys out there driving like that. That’s so much fun. That’s what this sport is all about. I just wanted to let him know what a great job I thought he did.”

Larson indeed felt consolation from Gordon’s words.

“It means a lot,” Larson said. “He was just giving me some advice and said he was pretty proud of me. I’m sure there are some things I could have done differently on that restart, like he was telling me; and I’ll definitely know for next time.

“It’s nice whenever Jeff comes around or I read all the stuff he says about me.

“It’s really cool that guys I’ve looked up to since forever are now talking about me and I’m racing them and battling for wins.”

But showing the competitor he is, Larson couldn’t help second-guess himself about what happened in the closing laps, even with Gordon’s words of wisdom.

“Man, I was so close,” Larson said. “I didn’t need that caution (the last caution, involving Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) there.

“I was just cruising out front and then we got that yellow and I had to battle (Kevin) Harvick really hard then. That allowed Brad (Keselowski) to get by both of us. It really ended our shot at a win there.

“It stinks we got third. Coming up close as often as I have this year is going to make that first win feel that much more special.”

Near the end of their joint post-race interview in the Chicagoland Speedway media center, Larson paid a compliment to Gordon that, well, kind of came out the wrong way.

Still, Gordon took it good-naturedly.

“It’s just really, really cool (to have fellow drivers like Gordon compliment him),” Larson said. “Guys you look up to since, heck, Jeff has been racing the Cup Series as long as I’ve been alive.”

That brought both a smile and a quip in reply from Gordon, who is 43 years old to Larson’s 21 years.

“I needed to hear that,” Gordon said.

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Sergio Perez wins rain-delayed race in Singapore over Leclerc; Verstappen seventh

Sergio Perez Singapore
Clive Rose/Getty Images,
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SINGAPORE — Max Verstappen’s Formula One title celebrations were put on hold after the Red Bull driver placed seventh at a chaotic Singapore Grand Prix, won by his teammate Sergio Perez on Sunday.

Perez’s second win of the season saw him finish 7.6 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, with Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. in third place.

Perez was investigated for a potential safety car infringement but still kept the win after a 5-second time penalty for dropping too far back after being warned.

Verstappen had won the past five races but needed to win here and finish 22 points ahead of Leclerc to be crowned champion for a second straight season. That could happen next weekend at the Japanese GP.

Verstappen made a mistake after the second safety car restart, following AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda’s crash on Lap 36. When Verstappen tried to overtake Lando Norris’ McLaren, he locked his tires and needed to pit again.

Leclerc started from pole position with Verstappen going from eighth after a team blunder in qualifying.

The race start was delayed by more than an hour to clear water off the Marina Bay Circuit track following heavy rainfall. Drivers had to finish the 61-lap race within a two-hour window; 59 laps were completed.

Tricky conditions saw the virtual safety car deployed three times and DRS was allowed with about 30 minutes remaining.

Perez made a good start and jumped past Leclerc while Verstappen dropped several places. The first safety car was on Lap 8 when Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo was cut off by Nicholas Latifi’s Williams.

Perez got away cleanly at the restart, while Verstappen climbed into seventh behind Fernando Alonso – whose 350th F1 race ended disappointingly when his engine failed on Lap 21, bringing out the first VSC.

With the track still damp, drivers decided against changing to quicker tires – apart from Mercedes’ George Russell, who struggled for grip.

Hamilton made a rare mistake on Lap 33 and thudded into the crash barrier. Soon after, the leading drivers changed tires in a flurry of stops. They did so just before the safety car was deployed again following Tsunoda’s error.

Verstappen overtook Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin right at the end for seventh place.