Work in Sports
Crashes end Gordon's day, tighten points race
By Stephen Thomas, CNNSI.com
CONCORD, N.C. -- There's a reason why they don't hand out the trophies until the end of the race. So, while it might be folly to discuss the unfortunate luck that befell a driver just 80-or-so miles into a 600-mile race, Jeff Gordon isn't just any driver.
Therefore, when Gordon away from the field for 27 laps in the early going at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Sunday, it wasn't entirely unreasonable to get ahead of yourself.
Entering the Coca-Cola 600, Gordon was only 14 points behind Winston Cup leader Dale Jarrett. But because of an unfortunate piece of pit-road luck, Gordon finished 29th and is now 75 points behind (and three ahead of Rusty Wallace).
Gordon's night went south when rookie Casey Atwood went into the wall on the front stretch and brought out the third caution of the day on lap 52. At just the moment Gordon was leaving his pit stall, Kenny Wallace turned into his and the cars hit; the right-front fender of Gordon's car was caved in.
"Clipping Kenny Wallace coming out of the pits ruined our whole day," Gordon said. "Knocked the right front fender in. The car was so perfectly balanced before that. It just got so loose, I couldn't hang on to it. It took us a long time to fix it. We were running as good as the leaders at the end, but it didn't matter."
Gordon was able to return to the pits and have his crew do damage control. However, the car's aerodynamics were almost entirely changed as a result of the fender bender, and Gordon was forced to return to the pits under green, putting him even further behind.
"When you're at a fast place," said Robbie Loomis, Gordon's frustrated crew chief, "you work a long time to get the body right. Any time you have trouble, you've got to live with it the rest of the night. ... You saw the results."
At first blush, the damage didn't seem so severe -- to anyone.
"I didn't think it was going to hurt us that bad," Gordon said. "When the guys told me that it looked all right, I thought we'd be OK. But it shows you just how one little thing like that can ruin your day. To have a car that was leading and driving away to having a car that couldn't keep up and went three laps down, that's pretty frustrating."