The off weekend provided much needed rest and relaxation for a number of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, but for the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne a break from racing couldn’t have come soon enough.
The teammates, both accustomed to running up front, have struggled mightily during the first six races of the season. A combination of bad luck and mechanical failure has given these drivers little room for error as they enter a crucial 14-race stretch before they experience another off weekend.
“Right now, it is just about putting the whole race together,” Gordon said about his performance during the first six races of the season. “It’s about having a car that we need and then making sure that the rest of the things fall, that we don’t make mistakes.”
Gordon, currently 21st in the Sprint Cup Series points standings, has seen his share of bad luck this season. A pit road penalty at AutoClub Speedway in Fontana, Calif., spoiled an opportunity for a solid finish and during the series’ most recent race at Martinsville he dominated, leading 328 of 515 laps, only to be involved in an accident during a green/white-checkered finish.
His early-season swoon has him searching for his first top-five finish of the season. Gordon has just one top-10 finish and has finished 25th or worse on three occasions. Despite his string of poor performances, he remains optimistic.
“That’s just the way our year has been going,” Gordon said. “It can’t go on like this forever.”
For Kahne, who currently sits 31st in the Sprint Cup Series point standings, his stats defy logic. He has two poles and qualified in the top 10 in five of the first six races only to walk away with zero top-10 finishes, zero laps led and four finishes of 25th or worse.
Wrecks at Daytona and Bristol coupled with poor showings at Phoenix and Las Vegas have Kahne disappointed about his start to the season, but far from defeated.
“We have qualified well at every race,” Kahne said. “I feel like we have been as good as anyone in every single practice session this year, and I feel that we have some of the fastest cars too and things have just happened. If we were slow and 27th in points I would be scared, but to me I feel like we are actually one of the top five or six cars in Cup right now as far as speed goes.”
With 20 races remaining on the schedule until the start of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, including Saturday’s Samsung Mobile 500, both drivers understand that their chances at making a championship run are far from over.
“That is the beauty of the Chase,” Gordon said. “I like the Chase format for the Sprint Cup because we are still in it. We just have to focus on trying to be in the top 10 in points. If we win races, we will be in. That is the nice thing. I think we just have to eliminate the mistakes and we have a lot of races left to be able to pull that off.”
A trip to Texas Motor Speedway for the Samsung Mobile 500 could be the remedy to help get both drivers on track. Both are previous winners at “The Great American Speedway!” – Kahne winning the 2006 Samsung/RadioShack 500 and Gordon victorious in the 2009 Samsung 500 – and have experienced continued success at the 1.5-mile speedway.
Gordon’s seven career top-five finishes at Texas Motor Speedway are tied for second most. He has led at least one lap in seven of the previous 10 races and secured a solid sixth-place finish in last year’s AAA Texas 500.
Kahne has experienced much of the same success with his four top-five finishes, including finishing third in his most recent visit to Texas Motor Speedway for the AAA Texas 500.
“I look forward to it,” Kahne said regarding this weekend’s Samsung Mobile 500. “I’ve always liked going to Texas and racing there. As fast as our cars are on that type of race track, we have learned some things at Vegas that we did in the race that weren’t as good as what I would have liked. I think Texas will be similar to that and we can kind of make gains from where we were at Vegas and have a shot at having a solid top-five there.”