|Gordon never gave up|
Gordon didn’t. Neither did his crew. But Kyle Busch did. As a result, it will be Gordon spending the final 10 races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season chasing after a championship while Busch, as he puts it, will be “driving around in circles.”
After leading the first lap at Richmond Saturday night, Gordon saw his car turn to junk. He dropped back through the field, all the way to 26th place and a lap down to the leaders before a red flag for rain brought the cars onto pit road. Busch was running easily in the top 10.
“We are completely out of it,” Gordon said during a rain delay. But the team used the red flag period to discuss what they were going to do to his car to make it competitive. And then they did it. Gordon, for his part, drove the race of his life, fighting back from his one lap deficit.
Busch, meanwhile, was the victim of some faulty pit strategy. His team wasn’t the only one to stay out when rain starting falling again, thinking perhaps the race might not restart. Then they missed an opportunity to pit with one lap until the green flag. Bigger mistake. But rather than put it behind him and try and fight back – Busch quit. Asked what the team could do to make his car better, Busch said “I don’t even F…ing care.”
Still, after all the pit stops played out, Busch had a lead over Gordon. It was up to the drivers. Gordon responded again. His car was near perfect and he raced it aggressively to the front. Busch, his car far from perfect, pouted.
Gordon had to overcome his own doubts before staging his comeback.
“For me, as a racecar driver, when you have that kind of start to the race, you don't have a lot of hope you're going to get it turned around,” Gordon said. “I went to Alan (Gustafson). He never wavered. He was confident. They were looking at the data from what we had, to our teammates, even Tony. We had just done the rear bar. They were pretty confident that was going to get us close to our teammates. He was right. I still had a little doubt in him, though.
It could be a season changing event for the team and Gordon is already talking about a championship.
“I felt like I won the race tonight,” he said. “When that was over, they told me I was in the Chase, we made it, I mean, I was ecstatic. I was going nuts. To me, after you have that kind of effort, fall back, then come up there and finish second, almost win the race, make it in by one point, man, I don't see any reason why we can't go over these next 10 races and be a real threat for the championship.”
Busch, under a media microscope because of his previous transgressions, barely acknowledged car owner Joe Gibbs before climbing out and storming away.
He returned long enough to answer two questions.
“We missed. That’s it. Plain and simple,” he said when asked what happened. What did Gibbs say to him? “Handle it the right way.” Busch couldn’t stop there. “But there’s no right way to handle it.”
Yes there was. And it was up to Crew Chief Dave Rogers to show him what “handle it the right way” means. Or maybe Gibbs told Rogers to “handle it with class.”
“The Chase is more than one race, but we certainly were in a position to capitalize and make it, but yeah, that call, I blew it,” Rogers said. “There’s no two ways to look at it. I’m pretty honest. I evaluate myself as hard as I evaluate my guys and I gave one up today.”
That was the right way to handle it.