Racing Gordon makes costly Daytona mistakes


Bench Warmer
Gordon makes costly Daytona mistakes

By MARK LONG, AP Sports Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP)—Jeff Gordon was in position for his 14th victory at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night.

Then he made two costly mistakes.

First, Gordon moved up the track and allowed eventual winner Kyle Busch to pass him for the lead with four laps to go in the Coke Zero 400. Then, the four-time Cup Series champion had a sluggish restart with two laps remaining and got spun into the infield when he tried to block Carl Edwards.

What looked like a surefire top-five finish all of a sudden became a 30th-place showing.

“It’s unfortunate,” Gordon said. “We had such a strong run. I’m more made that I let (Busch) get around me when I tried to go up and get that high line. I should have stayed on the bottom. My car was so good around the bottom. I’m more mad at myself than anything else.”

It was a rare error for a driver with so much success at NASCAR’s most storied track. Gordon has three Daytona 500 victories, four wins in the twin qualifying races, two in the Budweiser Shootout, three in the July race and even an IROC victory.

But after racing near the front of the field for most of Saturday night, he looked more like a Daytona rookie down the stretch.

“My car worked good anywhere,” Gordon said. “It was just awesome. I love having a race car like that. It’s unfortunate what happened.”

Edwards apologized for the accident, saying there was little he could do to avoid turning Gordon around.

“He was coming down and doing the best he could I think to get in front of me and he was up against my fender,” Edwards said. “I thought that he would turn right at any moment, but that’s all that happened there. I don’t think he knew I was inside of him.”

QUALIFIERS FALTER: Boris Said and AJ Allmendinger dropped to the back of the field to start the race. Jon Wood took the green flag, then drove straight to his garage.

They were among a handful of drivers who made the 43-car field, but faced an uphill battle because they were forced to stick with qualifying setups at Daytona. It was a calculated decision that got them into the race and gave them a chance to earn some much-needed points, but it also left them little chance to do much at NASCAR’s most famous track because no changes could be made between qualifying and the race.

Wood didn’t even bother to try to keep up. He drove his No. 21 Ford to the garage after the first lap for major changes. He eventually got back on the track but was eight laps down and well out of contention.

Allmendinger had even worse luck. He blew a right-front tire on lap 20, hit the wall and then watched his No. 84 Toyota get towed to the garage for good.

The rest of the “go-or-go-home” drivers—Said, Joe Nemechek, Johnny Sauter, Patrick Carpentier, Sterling Marlin and Jon Wood—also struggled in the race.

BIG-NAME BUSTS: Several big-name drivers found trouble at Daytona, an all-too-common occurrence at the 2 1/2 -mile superspeedway.

Ryan Newman, who won the season-opening Daytona 500 in February, got spun by Jamie McMurray early. Pole-sitter Paul Menard got his right-rear fender taped drastically to repair body damage.

Greg Biffle and Juan Pablo Montoya wrecked into each other and brushed the wall on lap 70, and both cars ended up in the garage for major repairs.

Even Cup Series points leader Kyle Busch had trouble early before winning the event. Busch saved a potential wreck on lap 83 after his car wiggled through a turn, then he dropped to the back of the field and complained that his steering wheel was misaligned—a major issue when drivers are trying to keep their cars straight at nearly 200 mph.

Newman, two-time defending Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Michael Waltrip were among the many drivers involved in late wrecks.

COSTNER VISITS: Actor Kevin Costner was an honorary starter for the Coke Zero 400 and also performed a pre-race concert with his band, “Modern West.”

Although Costner has starred in several sports movies—“American Flyers,” “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “Tin Cup” and “For Love of the Game”— he said his trip to Daytona probably wouldn’t inspire him to tackle a NASCAR-related film.

“The best movies are about men and women,” Costner said. “When somebody makes a great movie that involves NASCAR, trust me, it will be about a man and a woman set against the backdrop of your sport. If it’s a great movie, you’ll feel the texture of your sport. If it’s an average movie, you’ll get what’s obvious about your sport.

“I would be very cautious about a movie about NASCAR because it’s not in my DNA. I think that for those who could love a movie the most, they would fall in love with the details of a NASCAR movie, set against the background of a man and woman who just can’t seem to get along.”