With his position secure in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Jeff Gordon didn’t exactly drive with the urgency of a police officer called to a bank robbery in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.
But it also wasn’t merely a casual spin. There was work to be done in his pursuit of a storybook ending to his career with a fifth series championship.
Gordon’s No. 24 Chevy was pushed off the track at Texas Motor Speedway for the last time Sunday, eight places back of winner and Hendrick Racing teammate Jimmie Johnson. It was his 14th career top 10 at the speedway in north Fort Worth.
It also marked his fifth consecutive top 10 this season.
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I thought we learned a lot this weekend. I think we certainly know that our cars are fast because our teammate won.
Gordon finishes the Texas chapter of his career with one victory at the track — in 2009.
Sunday’s race, however, was more about Homestead-Miami Speedway, the site of the Chase finale in two weeks.
TMS and Homestead are both intermediate, 1 1/2 -mile tracks, similar in size and design, so the 24 team used the opportunity to experiment and grow more comfortable and confident in its 1 1/2 -mile program.
“Felt pretty good, top 10. ... I would have liked to of had a little bit more,” Gordon said. “We just didn’t have much on the short runs. It was something that we really struggled with today.
“I thought we learned a lot this weekend. I think we certainly know that our cars are fast because our teammate won. At the same time, I think that we were here to execute and push hard, try to win, but also to just learn what we could.”
The Texas finish completed three days of TMS officials and fans feting the famed driver, who earned his berth in the championship with a victory last week at Martinsville Speedway.
His Hall of Fame career includes four Sprint Cup titles and three Daytona 500 victories.
The victory at TMS in 2009 snapped a personal 47-race winless streak dating to 2007. He led six times for a race-high 105 laps en route to a .378-second victory over Johnson. It represented the third-closest Sprint Cup finish in track history.
Those two faced off for the series title in 2008, a battle Johnson won during a run of five consecutive championships.
“We’re going to do everything we can to help, there’s no doubt about it,” Johnson said of Gordon’s front-running prospects this year. “Unfortunately, you’re really limited, but I’m certainly pulling for him in doing everything I can to be of assistance.”
Gordon, of course, was also involved in one of the track’s most infamous confrontations last November with Brad Keselowski, who cut a tire on the 24 while making a bold — and some said reckless — pass.
He’s been a huge icon for this sport and brought it to the notoriety we have today.
Gordon made a not-so-subtle reference to that incident in the aftermath of Johnson overtaking Keselowski on Sunday.
“I think that’s awesome he beat the No. 2,” Gordon said. “That is spectacular. I’m going to give him a big hug for that.”
Gordon now finds himself in competing Cinderella stories.
Kyle Busch moved to within two points of Gordon after finishing fourth Sunday.
Busch missed the first 11 races after breaking his leg and foot in a scary crash at the Xfinity race during Daytona weekend in February.
“He’s been a huge icon for this sport and brought it to the notoriety we have today,” Busch said. “Without him, we certainly would be in different position. It’s disappointing to see him go ... almost heartbreaking for some.”