Jeff Gordon: M’ville penalty, not Texas run-in with Keselowski, hurt title hopes the most

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After Jeff Gordon’s elimination from the Chase for the Sprint Cup with one race to go in the 2014 season, many of his fans have cited his late-race contact with Brad Keselowski at Texas as the moment where his “Drive For Five” was derailed.

And while Gordon was ruing the Texas incident in the immediate aftermath of his elimination, the NASCAR icon now apparently finds himself haunted not by that race, but another.

In the Eliminator Round opener at Martinsville Speedway, Gordon was leading after a round of stops under caution at Lap 188 only to be penalized for speeding on pit lane.

The four-time Cup champ fought back valiantly to finish second behind winner and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., but if not for that penalty, Gordon may have scored the win that would have propelled him into the Championship 4 for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Instead, Gordon finished 29th at Texas after his run-in with Keselowski, which caused him to suffer a tire failure that eventually led to you-know-what.

One week later, he was then knocked out in the Eliminator finale at Phoenix after Ryan Newman shoved Kyle Larson aside to finish 11th and beat Gordon for the final transfer spot to the championship race by one point.

“The incident at Texas got obviously intense and lot of drama and led to more than I wish it ever led to,” Gordon said per Dustin Long of MRN. “I’ve put more attention on the mistake that I made at Martinsville on pit road.

“I think that would have given us as good or better chance of winning that race to move us on to Homestead as the incident at Texas. What I did at Martinsville, that was a big mistake.”

Gordon’s elimination from the Chase put a damper on an otherwise successful season for him and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team. Carrying momentum from their strong 2013 Chase, Gordon scored four victories (including a fifth career triumph in his beloved Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis) to fuel a late-career renaissance.

Still, even though he’s surely feeling confident in regards to the big picture after a strong 2014, it would seem that not being able to compete for the title gave Gordon some pause.

“You have to move on,” he added to MRN. “You have to learn from it. You have to let go. It’s not easy. I’m fairly good at moving past things like that. It depends on the sting.

“Some take longer than others and that was a big sting…”