Jeff Gordon’s crew chief takes blame for late-race call at Homestead

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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.

Harvick won the race and the title, Newman finished second, and Hamlin faded to seventh.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.