Gordon’s quest for fifth title ends at Phoenix

Seth Livingstone - NASCAR Wire Service Monday, Nov 10 1356

Jeff Gordon did all he could do on Sunday, driving the race he thought he needed to drive to advance in his quest for a fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

When Gordon flashed across the finish line in second place behind the race-dominant Kevin Harvick, he was in position to do just that.

Or so he thought. In the end, he was left helpless, hollow and empty-handed.

Gordon could not control the events unfolding behind him. When Ryan Newman nudged Kyle Larson into the wall and slid past him on the final turn, Newman picked up the one position he needed to edge Gordon by a single point for the final transfer spot among Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup contenders heading into next Sunday’s Championship Round race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN).

“Kevin (Harvick) was in another zip code. There was no touching him,” Gordon said. “I really thought (finishing) second would get it done, but obviously it didn’t. We did everything that we could, other than have a faster car than Kevin.”

Once out of his No. 24 Chevrolet, about all Gordon could do was stand tall and shrug his shoulders, knowing that his four victories and 22 top-10 finishes this season were not enough to overcome the nuances of the new Chase format and his misfortune the previous week at Texas Motor Speedway where his bid for a win dissolved into a 29th-place finish thanks to a cut tire.

“It makes last week that much tougher to swallow,” admitted Gordon, taking no solace in the fact that his nemesis at Texas, Brad Keselowski, also failed to move on to the Championship 4. "That one race is going to stick with me for a little while. I got over it this week, knowing that we could come here and compete like this. (But) now it makes it sting that much more.

“I mean it’s tough to swallow that two second-place finishes (Martinsville, Phoenix) and staring down a potential win – or at least a top-five last week – didn’t get it done. Some things are out of our control and I felt like we did a great job putting all the effort into the things that we could control.”

Gordon started seventh in Sunday’s Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500, ran in the top 10 for virtually the entire race and stayed on Harvick’s immediate tail as best he could for the final 79 laps.

With his most victories and most laps led in a season since 2007 when he won six times, Gordon, 43, genuinely believed he’d be vying for his first Cup championship since 2001.

“I couldn’t be more proud of what this team did this year," he said. "What a great season with great race cars. I don’t think anybody deserves to be (competing for the title) at Homestead more than this No. 24 team because of the effort they put in and the performances that we’ve had.

“Today, the track was real slick. I was sliding around. I knew it was going to be a long day. Alan made some great adjustments.

Gordon expressed no qualms with the new championship format, which effectively divides the 10-race run to the Cup title into four segments, eliminating some of the sport’s best drivers along the way.

“You know what? You’ve got to score the points or win the races to get in there and we didn’t do that,” he said.

“But this is the most interest we’ve had in this sport in a long time, so obviously (the format) has been good. The only disappointing thing, the only thing I don’t like right now, is the fact that I’m not in (the Championship Round race) next week.”