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…”

Top Fuel driver Austin Prock earns 2019 NHRA top rookie honors

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Having just completed a promising first year in NHRA Top Fuel competition, Austin Prock is on the road to even greater drag racing success in his career.

That’s why it’s not surprising that Prock was named the winner of the 2019 Auto Club Road to the Future Award during Monday night’s annual NHRA Awards dinner at the Ray Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California.

The Road to the Future Award is NHRA’s version of Rookie of the Year, and Prock was among the brightest young stars on the circuit this past season, including winning his first national event at the Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in suburban Seattle, the 16th race on the 24-race schedule.

What made that first win all the more sweeter is it came at the same event that his boss, legendary 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, captured his milestone 150th career win.

One month ago, Prock set a personal best run of 3.688 seconds at 334.40 mph over veteran driver Doug Kalitta in the first round of eliminations at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals three weeks ago in Ennis, Texas (suburban Dallas).

“I am proud of the season this Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist team put together,” Prock said in a media release. “My guys worked their asses off all season long to give me the opportunity to win the Auto Club Road the Future Award. I couldn’t have done it without them.

“I would have never been here without John Force and Robert Hight (president of John Force Racing). They gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream and I owe the world to them. I hope I made them proud.”

Prock became only the 10th rookie in the history of the NHRA pro ranks to both win a race in their first season and also go on to win the Road to the Future award. He also was the 13th rookie in the sport’s history to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six race playoffs.

Prock becomes the sixth John Force Racing driver to earn the Road to the Future Award, joining Tony Pedregon (1996), Hight (2005), Ashley Force-Hood (2007), Mike Neff (2008), Courtney Force (2012) and Brittany Force (2013).

Austin Prock is the son of veteran crew chief Jimmy Prock, who tuned Hight to his third career NHRA Funny Car championship this past Sunday.

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