Jeff Gordon compares Texas Motor Speedway to a roller coaster and it’s easy to see why.
It’s been the worst track in his career based on average finish (17.6) and the only track in which he’s finished 43rd (twice); it’s a track that he didn’t win on until his 17th try in the spring of 2009; and it’s a track that has hosted two of his biggest brawls, one with Jeff Burton in 2010 and then with Brad Keselowski in the fall.
The unpredictability of it, though, is also part of what makes it special. Nobody knows what to expect from Gordon when he visits Texas.
Maybe he’ll win. Maybe he’ll brawl. Maybe he’ll have an uneventful day.
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“It is definitely a roller-coaster ride ... you’re going to see a lot of cars that are going forward and going backwards,” Gordon said. “I feel like we’ve been very strong here, but we haven’t always had the — I don’t want to say ‘luck’ because I think you make your own luck — but I think that we haven’t had as good as results as I feel like we’ve performed here over the years. But, it is nice to have that win and to run good and come in here with confidence that we can back that up again.”
Regardless of what’s in store for Gordon this time around, eyes will surely be focused on him throughout Saturday’s the Duck Commander 500. It’s Gordon’s second-to-last race at TMS, as he’s announced this is his last full-time racing season.
Gordon has been walking a tightrope all season, soaking in his farewell tour but also focusing on winning races. He appreciated Atlanta Motor Speedway putting all “24s” on the leader board towers on Lap 24 earlier this season, and Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s 24 mph speed limit signs around the grounds.
The Omni in downtown Dallas has been displaying a large “24” on its building every night since Thursday, and the track is expected to do another fitting tribute for Gordon’s final race at the track in November. But Gordon is hopeful his season overshadows all of those gestures.
His favorite moment to date?
“Nothing really to me is better than at Martinsville taking the lead and seeing the fans go crazy,” Gordon said. “That to me is what I enjoy the most. I hope we can do some more of that.”
Clearly, Gordon is determined to try and go out on top and then use next year for ceremonial appearances. And everybody knows he’s more than capable of doing just that, particularly after his close call a year ago.
Gordon won four races last season, and was in position to be one of the final four drivers in the championship round. He was leading Texas last November with nine laps left when Brad Keselowski made a daring move that cut Gordon’s left rear tire, essentially eliminating Gordon from winning that race and the championship.
The focus has since shifted to this season, and Gordon got off to a rocky start despite winning two poles. He finished 18th or worse the first three races, but has strung together three consecutive top-10 runs coming into Texas.
Most observers feel it’s just a sign of things to come for Gordon.
“There’s no doubt he’s capable of putting together a similar run [this year as last year],” team owner Rick Hendrick said.
Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. has similar thoughts. Not only does Gordon have a car capable of winning every week, the pending retirement hasn’t become a distraction.
“He seems really comfortable with his decision to retire,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t think you really know how you’re ever going to handle that, but it seems like he’s handling it well. He’s prepared and ready for this.
“Plus, he believes he can win a championship and they’re good enough to do that. They’re focused on that.”
It very well may happen. But, just like Gordon’s races at Texas, there’s no way of predicting it.
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760
Two left for Gordon
Jeff Gordon is running just twice more at TMS, beginning with Saturday’s Duck Commander 500. His career at TMS:
Avg. Start: 11.8
Avg. Finish: 17.6, worst in his career
Top-5s: 9, third-most in track history
Recent races: Finished second in this race last spring; finished 29th last fall after late-race wreck. Finished 38th in each 2013 race.
Did you know? Jeff Gordon has finished 43rd twice in his career -- both at Texas (1999 and 2008 spring).
Notable: His lone win in spring of 2009 came by a margin of 0.378 seconds over Jimmie Johnson, the fourth-closest finish in track history.
3 drivers to watch
Kevin Harvick: Texas has been a track that Harvick simply can’t overcome in the Cup races, and Eddie Gossage consistently reminds him of that fact. This is a track Harvick desperately wants to win at, saying: “I just want to win here so Eddie Gossage will leave me alone.” So, if nothing else, root for an entertaining Victory Lane presentation.
Danica Patrick: She’s starting 21st, the best starting position for her in six races at the track. Patrick should feel confident after a seventh-place run at Martinsville, tying the second-best finish in her Cup career. Better yet, she’s starting on the same row (11) as her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: The 88 team failed to reach the second round of qualifying and will start 25th. He feels the car’s race trim is better than the qualifying. Either way, that’s a lot of ground to make up for the sport’s most popular driver, but it’s been done before. Matt Kenseth won from the 31st starting position back in 2002.