After being eliminated from the Chase in Phoenix by a single point, Jeff Gordon started the Sprint Cup season finale weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway by winning the pole.
Then, during the race, Gordon stayed at the front of the field for long stretches with help from solid pit stops that allowed him to capitalize on his No. 1 stall at pit exit.
And then…He finished 10th.
His crew chief, Alan Gustafson, has taken responsibility for that today during an interview on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Some background: Gordon stayed out on track to retain the race lead during a caution with 20 laps to go in the Ford Ecoboost 400. But when the majority of the field chose to go into the pits for service, the four-time Cup champion suddenly was in trouble.
Following a restart with 15 laps left, the caution came out again for a multi-car wreck with 13 to go. At that point, Gordon gave up second place for fresh tires and dropped all the way to 26th.
The new rubber helped Gordon rally back and eke out a Top-10 result, but it could have been so much more.
“That put us in a bad position, and that was the difficult part,” Gustafson said on SiriusXM about staying out with 20 to go. “Jeff felt like [during] the last [caution], we weren’t in a very good position to succeed, so we made the decision to come pit.
“So, really, the first stop with us and Denny [Hamlin] and I can’t remember – a few other cars – stayed out, that really hurts. That’s on me. It was a mistake that I made. I tried to keep the track position and I felt like it would be the highest-percentage decision.
“It ended up not being that. That put us behind unfortunately. I think we had the best car, and the team deserved to win the race. So, it was a bad decision on my part and I’m going to learn from it and move forward.”
During his interview with SiriusXM, Gustafson also touched on the disappointment of not being part of the Championship 4, saying that Gordon and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team did not get “by any stretch of the imagination what [they] deserved.”
“I know in my heart this is a championship-caliber team, and we deserve the opportunity to race for that championship,” he said according to MRN.com’s Dustin Long. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do it.
“I’m not saying that in a spiteful way, I’m using it as … a way to stay motivated to push through this offseason and come out next year better than ever.”
Of couse, he wasn’t the only crew chief that had a gamble go awry on Sunday at Homestead.
Hamlin’s crew chief, Darian Grubb, took the blame for the call to keep his driver out in that 20-to-go yellow – a decision that backfired when a rash of late yellows enabled fellow Championship 4 contenders Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman to catch up and pass him late.