Starting 19th isn’t quite what Jeff Gordon had in mind for his final Brickyard 400 – far from it, in fact.
“I’m really disappointed,” Gordon said Saturday after qualifying. “The car was good. I felt like the car did what I needed it to do. I just didn’t go fast enough.”
Gordon’s qualifying effort is about the only low point of what has been a memorable week for him in his adopted home state. Gordon, who lived in Indiana as a teenager, has been on essentially one big farewell tour during this NASCAR season, his final one as a driver before he retires.
It has been a whirlwind week for Gordon in a state to which he moved from California when he was in high school. Living in Pittsboro, Ind., allowed Gordon the chance to legally race at the age of 14.
Gordon was honored with a parade in Pittsboro, Ind., this week.
Pittsboro, a tiny town located about 30 miles northwest of Indianapolis, honored Gordon with a parade Tuesday. Afterward, Gordon called the experience “one of the best days of my life.”
That’s what made his qualifying run so unacceptable to him Saturday. The crowd in the stands facing Indianapolis’s famous Gasoline Alley let out an audible groan when his time was posted, too slow to be among the top 12 drivers who would advance to the final round of qualifying. The fans were substantially happier when Tony Stewart, another Indiana favorite son, produced the fastest speed in the first round (he will start fourth).
... It’s just amazing to have the support that I have here.”
“Yeah, and it’s amazing and I love that,” Gordon said of the crowd’s reaction. “When I’m out there in the car I’m just focused on doing my job, but when I’m out of the car it’s just amazing to have the support that I have here. It’s not just this weekend. It’s been over the years. It’s pretty well known this is going to be my final Brickyard 400, so it’s amazing to have that kind of support. And I feel too, that I’m not very happy with what just happened, but hopefully we can make up for that (Sunday).”
Although he is safe bet to make the Chase (he’s 10th in points), Gordon hasn’t won this season. He has 11 top-10s, including a ninth-place finish last week at New Hampshire.
But Indianapolis isn’t just another track for Gordon, its close location to his teen-age home notwithstanding.
5 Victories at Indianapolis by Gordon
A NASCAR record five of Gordon’s 92 career victories have come at Indianapolis, including last season’s Brickyard 400 (he also won the track’s inaugural NASCAR race in 1994). Only Formula One driver Michael Schumacher (six) has more victories at Indy.
“I’ve been so excited to watch Jeff win here and the success that he’s had,” said Jimmie Johnson, Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate. “Even how crazy this place has been when Stewart has won here. It’s cool to see fans get behind their guy. I’ve been able to experience that at Fontana (Calif.) and just admire the experience that Jeff and even Tony have had here at the track, winning and watching this place go nuts over them winning.”
If that is to happen, Gordon knows he’ll have to perform better Sunday than he did Saturday.
“This team is so good, and our race car has proven to be good, that just because we’re qualifying further back than we wanted doesn’t mean that we can’t get it done tomorrow,” Gordon said.