Jeff Gordon’s costly mistake helps ruin weekend at Talladega

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Jeff Gordon’s mistake on pit road helped sour a promising weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

Penalized for speeding on pit road, Gordon was dropped back to 30th for the final restart Sunday after spending much of the race up front.

“I’m not happy with myself, really,” Gordon said. “I made that mistake coming to pit road. That was a make-or-break moment in the race. It could have put us in the lead. Instead we were the tail end of the longest line.”

Gordon had every reason to expect a happier ending. He started from the pole for the 80th time at a track where he’s won six times and led 47 laps. Hendrick Motorsports had the strongest cars in the field, and it was clear Gordon was a contender for the win.

Because this is his retirement tour, Gordon had even hung out with friends on Talladega’s boulevard, a party spot he’d avoided for at least a decade.

Instead, Hendrick teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. wound up winning and Gordon was saddled with a 31st-place finish. The four-time NASCAR champion as if he had the ride to be celebrating on Victory Lane.

“You want to seize those opportunities,” Gordon said. “This was an opportunity for us. We had an awesome race car. I definitely feel like we had the best race car. Junior was good, Jimmie (Johnson) was good, but I felt like we were amazing. That’s frustrating. I think the most frustrating thing is making a mistake.

“At Martinsville, I made a mistake. Here I made a mistake. We’ve got to eliminate those mistakes when we have race cars like this, because we have an awesome race team.”

It has just been that kind of year for one of NASCAR’s most successful drivers. He said he knew he was going too fast but couldn’t get the car slowed down in time.

At Martinsville, he had a similar blunder. Gordon took the lead with 58 laps to go but got penalized for speeding entering pit road and only managed to squeeze back into the Top 10.

He wrecked on the last lap of his final Daytona 500, where he also started on the pole and led 77 of the first 100 laps. He limped across the finish line in 33rd.

Gordon’s race at Talladega ended similarly since he couldn’t make up much ground after restarting.

“If those guys decide to go single file like that, you’re not going anywhere,” he said. “I was in the middle on that final restart, making some ground up, and all of a sudden they all went outside. “And at that point, it was over. You’re just sitting there waiting for the white flag to come up.”

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