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Allen Lessels on Motorsports: For Gordon, it could have been worse
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards (99) bumps Denny Hamlin (11) during the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (Stew Milne-US PRESSWIRE)
LOUDON -- SO you’re zipping along in heavy traffic and the check engine light comes on and then a bunch of other indicator lights kick in, lighting up the dashboard in a fireworks-like display.
Now you’re NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon and that zipping along is at about 170 miles an hour, in serious want-to-kick-your-butt traffic at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on a speedy Sunday afternoon drive.
Gordon’s Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet was one of the fastest cars in the Lenox Industrial Tool 301 on Sunday, but it developed alternator/battery issues.
Fortunately, Gordon had an extra battery on board.
“When I switched over to the other battery, everything was lighting up and flashing and going crazy,” Gordon said.
It was that kind of afternoon for Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.
The good news is, in the end, they survived fairly well.
“That’s what you have to do,” Gordon said. “You have to survive these races in a lot of different ways. Today could have been a disaster for us and yet with all the things that went wrong, we still came home 11th.”
Johnson, somehow, managed to finish fifth.
“I was just driving my guts out, man,” Johnson said. “Anything that could go wrong today, did.”
Johnson said his problems started on Friday with a poor qualifying effort. He had to return to the pits one time on Sunday when a lug nut was left off during a tire change and then he got bumped on the track later by Juan Pablo Montoya.
“Still among all that stuff going on, we rallied back to finish fifth,” Johnson said. “And we did it the hard way, by passing cars.”
Johnson moved up three spots in the Sprint Cup points standings and is No. 2 behind new leader Carl Edwards. Gordon and Earnhardt also retained spots in the top 10, while the fourth Hendricks driver, Mark Martin, finished 22nd in the race and fell a spot to 20th in the points race.
Earnhardt’s standing in the top 10 became a little more tenuous. He finished 15th on Sunday and slipped a spot in the standings to No. 9, seven points ahead of Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart.
Still, this was his best finish in the last five races and beat the heck out of the 30th he turned in at Kentucky Speedway a week ago.
“Well, 15th ain’t awesome,” Earnhardt said, sitting soaked in sweat behind his National Guard/Amp Energy Chevy hauler. “But certainly better than what we have been putting on points-wise. We had about a 15th-place car last week and I have just got to stay calm and take what the heck I can get instead of trying to make something happen and ruining the day like I did last week.”
The Sprint Cup series takes next weekend off, its last break before a 17-straight weekend stretch that runs until the finale at Homestead-Miami on Nov. 20.
There are seven races left, starting with the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 31, before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 18.
Only the top 10 drivers in points, along with two wild card entries based on wins, make the Chase.
The Cup series returns here for the Sylvania 300, the second race in the Chase, on Sept. 28.
Earnhardt and Gordon offered split opinions on what Sunday’s race might portend for September.
“I think we definitely will try and start from scratch when we come back next time,” Earnhardt said. “We struggled all weekend. In practice, we just didn’t really have the speed we had last year. We’ve just got to figure out why.”
Last year, Earnhardt was eighth in the June race at NHMS, fourth in September.
Gordon dropped a lap down midway through Sunday’s race when his crew switched out his batteries and slipped from the fourth spot to 11th when his right front tire blew on the last lap.
Overall, though, he was happy with how the day went.
“It was a pretty crazy day for us, but there’s certainly a lot to smile about with how great our car was,” Gordon said. “My goodness, our car was so good ... It was a challenging day in a lot of ways, but we certainly are excited about coming back here later to this racetrack. Our car was fast.”
Gordon also liked what the day said about his team as the Chase approaches.
“From a performance standpoint, I think we showed everyone what we’re capable of doing,” he said. “I know the guys feel really bad about the issues that we had, but it was a great lesson for us to go through this and understand how we have to deal with it and how we have to react to it.”
Allen Lessels covers motor sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.