Although he has yet to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race this year, Jeff Gordon continues to come achingly close. Saturday's Crown Royal 400 at Richmond was the 39th straight race for Gordon without a win, but the Hendrick Motorsports driver was in an upbeat frame of mind after finishing second to Kyle Busch, having led 123 straight laps at one point.
“It was still a great finish – a great run for us,” Gordon said. “After the last couple weeks, we certainly needed this.
“Unfortunately, those [late] cautions came out. Kyle was just unbelievable on the restarts. You know, I followed him enough times early in the race to watch him run around the bottom on the inside. I knew that if I gave him the inside, he was going to drive by me faster than he did on the outside...”
Gordon said he was not frustrated by his string of near-misses.
“I've been doing this long enough to know they don't give out trophies for leading any lap other than the last one,” he said. “We're a team that's made huge strides, in my opinion, from last year. Even though we finished third in the points last year, I don't feel we were near as competitive as we are right now. That's what I'm excited about. We're leading laps, a bunch of laps, at a lot of different types of tracks. I think our team is really on top of our game.
“Yeah, it's a little disappointing we haven't won some races yet. If we keep doing this, those will come. We got to keep putting ourselves in position. Our cars that have been leading those laps are not the kind of cars that you want a green-white-checkered or a late caution. That's something you have to think about. You have to try to figure out how to make an air pressure adjustment or do certain things to make your car really good on those short runs, because we're seeing them every weekend and that's how you're going to have to win races. Just keeps us working harder.
“I was struggling on that last restart. Kevin [Harvick] almost got by me, too. Luckily, he raced me clean. I couldn't stay down on the bottom in front of him. I was just real loose. It was just an unfortunate sequence of cautions for us that wasn't to our favor, and we finished second. That's the bottom line.”
Gordon admitted that his Steve Letarte-led No. 24 team is approaching the season differently this year.
“Last year we came out, we were consistent, we were running OK, we won a race at Texas. I didn't think we were near dominant enough, leading enough laps, or diverse enough to run good at a lot of different types of tracks to compete for the championship,” he said. “I feel like that's the difference for us this year. Other than the win column, I feel like we're dominating races at times, we're leading laps pretty much everywhere we go. We're running up front. We're putting ourselves in a position to win late in races. Our pit crew is strong. Everything is going good, other than getting the win. I'm extremely happy with the way things are going. I think we're a better team than we were this time last year.”