Despite falling short of the championship round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Jeff Gordon has nothing to be ashamed of.
In his quest for the fifth Cup championship of his career, the so-called “Drive For Five” – in what would have been his 13th try at it since his last title in 2001 – Gordon had arguably his best season in close to a decade.
That’s why Gordon is understandably disappointed to have come so close, and yet ultimately fell short.
“I’m disappointed,” Gordon said. “I thought if we came out of here second, even if it was to Kevin or (Brad) Keselowski, I thought we’d still make it in.
“That’s pretty disappointing to do all of that. It just makes last week (at Texas) that much more disappointing and I’m going to be thinking about that one for a while.”
Even so, Gordon and the No. 24 team, who were the only remaining hope for Hendrick Motorsports to win the championship, have nothing to be ashamed about for falling just one point – ONE POINT! – short of reaching the championship round.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing, but we have a lot to hold our heads up high about – the way that we raced this race and this whole Chase and the whole season,” Gordon said. “We raced hard. We raced together as a team.
“But I hope we taught somebody (Keselowski) that you can race clean and still go out there and give it your best. You don’t have to wreck people to make it in the Chase or win the championship.”
That’s why even if he had been able to catch Harvick in the closing laps and likely would have had to wreck him to win the race himself, Gordon said he would not have done so in much the same fashion that Ryan Newman forced Kyle Larson into the wall to earn the one extra point for Newman to make the Chase – and Gordon to be eliminated.
“I’m not going to wreck a guy that’s racing me clean all year long just to make it into the Chase,” Gordon said of Harvick. “That’s not what it’s all about for me.
“You’re not going to go win the championship next week by doing that. So, it’s just unfortunate. It’s just unfortunate. We did everything so good this year.”
But if there’s anyone Gordon is going to blame for falling short, it won’t be Newman, but rather Keselowski.
“That one race, that one race (last week at Texas) is going to stick with me for a little while,” Gordon said. “I got over it this week, knowing that we could come here and compete like this. Now it makes it sting that much more.”
Perhaps what makes the Chase elimination pill even more bitter to swallow is that Gordon finished second to race winner Harvick, yet still was eliminated.
“We did everything right, in my opinion,” Gordon said. “We did everything that we could control. We ran smart races. We were aggressive when we needed to be. We had great race cars. When we needed to qualify up front, we qualified up front.
“Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) called a great race today. We fell back; had some issues on a pit stop, and fought our way back up there and held on for second there at the end. We gave it everything. I’m proud of that.”
There had been speculation that Gordon might call it quits after this season, whether he won the championship or not.
But he allayed those fears totally after Sunday’s race.
“I certainly will (return in 2015) because of this race team,” Gordon said. “They have inspired me this year. They’ve given me great cars and great confidence.
“They’ve given me such great cars, and pit stops and pit strategy and it’s been a lot of fun this year. I think nobody is more deserving and has worked harder to be at Homestead battling for this championship than this No. 24 team. But some things are out of our control.”
To his credit, even though he didn’t reach the championship, Gordon still tried to find something to smile about.
“I told my wife when the day started that no matter what happens today, we have a lot to smile about and be happy about,” Gordon said. “We have two wonderful children. We’ve worked our guts out this year as a race team and we’ve won races and showed everybody what kind of race team we are.
“And for that I’m extremely proud. I knew if this moment happened and we had that kind of performance today, it would be very tough to take. But that’s the reality of it.”
While Gordon still has a chance to win the season-ending race, he called Sunday the most empty feeling he’s ever had after driving a great race – but with a caveat.
“Yeah, it is,” Gordon said, then adding with a laugh, “Besides last week (after his run-in with Keselowski).”
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