Jeff Gordon didn’t finish the season opening Daytona 500 the way he had hoped, but he still remembers a lot from that race. Quite vividly, since Gordon admits it was a tough day at the speedway.
He finished 20th after fading late but after leading 31 laps. When it came time to decide the winner however, Gordon wasn’t around as teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished first and second. But this weekend, however, past lessons learned will be applied as soon as the green flag waves over the Talladega Superspeedway.
“It was hard to pass in Daytona and it’s not that it’s just hard to pass, it’s that nobody wanted to get out of line,” Gordon said Friday on the importance of track position.
“Everybody kind of protected their position until those crucial moments in the closing laps. I think that there could be some more of that this weekend and I made some mistakes by getting a little bit over-confident that we could make some moves with some other cars and drive to the front.
“Until we see that happen there, I think it’s going to be more of start up front, try to have good, solid pit stops and strategy and stay up front and go after it in the closing laps.”
Much of the Daytona 500 was single-file racing, drivers lined up against the outside wall. Laps were logged until they felt it was time to make their move. It’s what helped Gordon lead the laps he did, as he took the lead at the green flag and had easy sailing.
The debut of NASCAR’s new Generation6 car was met with mixed reviews, for Gordon as the series heads to their second of four plate races this season, he’s expecting exactly what took place in Daytona.
“No. The only thing that is different is this is a wider racetrack,” Gordon replied when asked if Talladega would be any different.
“You don’t have to worry about handling where handling was a little bit of an issue at Daytona. You don’t have to worry about that at all here. You might be able to push a little big more aggressively and we’ll look at the temps, but I think it’s going to be just as challenging and difficult to jump out of line and to get a line formed on that inside to move up there.”
Not that it won’t happen, Gordon acknowledged, but there hasn’t been enough drivers willing to take the risk to do so. Track position was much more important and drivers became committed to the lane all the way up against the wall. Something Gordon’s preparing himself for again.
A six-time winner at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, he’s seen and experienced it all. Coming from the back, dominating up front and being showered in beer cans after a controversial 2004 ending.
“The first time I came here, I came with moderate confidence because of our success at Daytona that year,” said Gordon. “We ran up front. I don’t remember how we ended up here in that first race, but you definitely have to treat this slightly different than Daytona because it’s bigger, wider, faster and the drafting is slightly different.
“What moves you’re able to make as a driver, just because of the security the car has here is a little big different. Over the years, certainly that confidence is built because of our success, but at the same time the cars have changed, packages have changed, how you win at Talladega has changed.
“We were close a couple of years ago and hopefully we can be smart and make some good moves and get ourselves back in a position. All you want at a track like this is to have yourself in position to be able to make some of those moves and hope that your momentum carries and you get a good finish and maybe even a win.”
Win is what Gordon has yet to do this season. He’s currently 14th in points and climbing, much like he did a season ago. But he hasn’t won in Alabama since 2007, which also happens to be the last time he won at a restrictor plate track.
First though, comes qualifying for the Aaron’s 499 which will take place on Saturday at 12:10 p.m. Eastern Time.