Jeff Gordon bolsters Eliminator Round hopes with runner-up finish

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Out of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers, Jeff Gordon was the only one to be on the good side of the Chase Grid going into tonight’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

However, with the Top 8 drivers advancing to the Eliminator Round, Gordon held the eighth spot by just eight points over teammate Kasey Kahne. The four-time Sprint Cup champion was still in a precarious position and needed a big result to put himself farther up the Grid.

Mission accomplished. Gordon couldn’t keep up with race winner Kevin Harvick on the final restart with two laps to go, but his second-place finish elevated him to sixth on the Grid and stretched his cushion over the cutoff to 18 points.

He’ll certainly take that momentum as he prepares to race his way into the Eliminator Round in next weekend’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

“Kevin got out there on us after that last green flag stop, and it looked like we were gonna be second,” Gordon said to ESPN. “I didn’t want to see another restart, because every time we start on the inside, we seemed to lose positions.

“But there at the end, and in the whole race, we were just trying to tune and make it better. We got off a little bit, lost some track position – I had some terrible restarts – but there at the end, four tires, good adjustments, and we were able to get right up in the thick of it. Kevin was tough. I knew when he got up front, it was gonna be hard to beat him.”

But while he has some breathing room now, he’s not out of the woods yet. Talladega still awaits.

“It doesn’t make us by any means very comfortable going into next week, but a lot better than it could be,” he said.

Gordon was especially strong during the first 100 laps of the race, when he took the lead from pole sitter Kyle Busch at Lap 14 and did the same again at Lap 38.

A cycle of green flag stops at Lap 79 ended with him up front once more, but while Gordon ceded the point eventually, he remained firmly embedded in the Top 5 at halfway.

Toward the end of the race, Gordon made another late charge. He moved into “podium” position with 38 laps remaining before taking second behind Harvick with 31 to go.

A final round of green flag stops with about 20 to go kept Gordon in second before Brian Vickers suffered an engine failure with seven laps to go.

Like Harvick, Gordon stayed out on track to prepare for the restart with two to go, which went Harvick’s way as he cleared Gordon off Turn 2 on their way to the white flag.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).