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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Latest INDYCAR Aeroscreen test continues to provide feedback; data to series

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo
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RICHMOND, Virginia – After completing its third Aeroscreen test since October 2, INDYCAR continues to collect valuable data and feedback from the drivers and engineers involved in testing.

The latest test of the Aeroscreen came Tuesday, October 15 at Richmond Raceway, a .750-mile short oval. Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon has been involved in testing dating all the way back to 2017 at Phoenix with the original “Windscreen.” Tuesday’s test was the first-time two-time NTT IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden was able to test the device that partially encloses the cockpit proving greatly enhanced driver safety.

It was also the first time the current “Aeroscreen” designed and created by Red Bull Advanced Technologies, Pankl and Dallara has been tested at a short oval – a track that measures under 1.5-miles in length.

The previous tests were at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 2 and the Barber Motorsports Park road course on October 7.

“It wasn’t a problem getting in the car today and relearning a new viewpoint,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com at the conclusion of Tuesday’s test. “It felt like a new viewpoint. It’s still an Indy car. It still feels like an Indy car. The car does a lot of the things it did before. It required some slight tuning differences to accommodate a different center of gravity and different total weight.

“Overall, it still felt like the same Indy car I drove three weeks ago. You get used to that new viewpoint within 30 or 40 laps. It was alien at first but halfway through the day it feels like home again.”

Newgarden’s Team Penske test team along with INDYCAR officials worked on changes to getting air into the cockpit and directing the air to the right place where the driver can utilize it.

“We’ve come up with some solutions that we like,” Newgarden said. “INDYCAR and the teams will continue to fine-tune this. That is why we are doing these tests. The main goal was to figure this out and fine-tune this stuff. We have come up with a lot of good solutions to all of the little things we have talked about that we have needed so when Sebastien Bourdais goes to Sebring (on November 5), it will just be another version.

“We are already close. Because they are such small details, it feels like normal racing stuff and we will come up with solutions for that.”

Some drivers who have participated in the Aeroscreen test has said, they almost feel naked without having the halo-like structure with a clear windshield protecting them on the race car.

“Once we got through a whole IndyCar season, if you took it off, it would feel really strange,” Newgarden said. “People adapt so quickly to a change, what the car looks like. Once you give us a couple of races and a full year, it will feel like home and something we are very used to as drivers.

“It is already starting to get that way. People are feeling more comfortable with it. The field of view is almost identical to the way it was before. Your peripheral vision is identical, the way you look out the front of the cars is identical, the way you see the tires is identical.”

Individual driver preference will allow for shading of the sun and that can be accomplished with the visor strips on the helmet and the tear-offs on Aeroscreen.

Drivers will also have a bit of a quieter atmosphere inside the cockpit. The partial enclosure makes it easier to hear his radio communication and the sounds of the engine in the driver’s car. It partially blocks out the sounds of the engines in the other cars and the rush of wind traveling at high speeds that used to buffet in and around the helmet.

“It has changed the noise level slightly inside the cockpit,” Newgarden said. “For me, it wasn’t super dramatic. It’s a slight reduction in wind noise. You’re not getting the wind directly over your head as dramatically as you would before. All that external noise has just been dimmed.

“You can hear the radio a touch better, things like that. But the engine noise is still quite prominent. It’s bolted directly behind us, so you still hear quite a bit of what’s going on in the car and the engine.”

Dixon was in the car at Indianapolis on October 2 and returned on Tuesday. The Barber test on October 7 included this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud, in a Team Penske Chevrolet and Ryan Hunter-Reay in an Andretti Autosport Honda.

“The only differences are the openings on the front wing that creates some more airflow around the legs and body and a different inlet in the screen that was in place today,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com. “There were helmet cooling options since the Barber test because on the road course, some of the drivers were getting a little hotter.

“This project has been very in-depth. It hit the ground running very smoothly. There are some alternate options they are trying to create, especially on the street courses where we will experience hot condition. On street conditions, your depth perception changes because of how close you are to the walls, but we should get used to that.”

Two weeks ago, Team Penske driver Will Power said it takes a different style to get out of the race car because of the added height of the Aeroscreen.

That hasn’t been a problem for Dixon.

“That’s easy, man,” he said. “Just go through the hole in the top.”