AVONDALE, Ariz. – Jeff Gordon didn’t hide the resignation. In fact, it was clear he didn’t want to.
Jimmie Johnson’s victory in Sunday’s Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway virtually dimmed all hope Gordon has of claiming his fifth Nextel Cup Series championship this season.
Gordon finished a respectable 10th, but that offered no help as Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, cruised to his fourth consecutive victory and 10th of the season.
“It’s over,” Gordon said of the championship battle. “Even if they have trouble and we win it, we’ll accept the check and the trophy, but it’s not the way you want to win a championship.
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“We’ve gotten beat, bottom line. They’ve done the job and deserve to be champions and we haven’t.”
With only next weekend’s season finale remaining at Homestead, Fla., Gordon trails Johnson by 86 points.
Johnson need only finish 18th or better next week and he is assured of his second series championship regardless of how Gordon performs.
“It’s unfortunate. Right now I’m just more frustrated with the way we’ve been running. We’ve run so well all year long and got ourselves in a great position and it just hasn’t worked out for us,” said Gordon, who has six wins this season.
“You go into it trying to figure out if it’s your year and if you got what it takes. I really thought we did. It was just not to be for us.”
Gordon just never seemed to be able to get his No. 24 Chevrolet to perform up to the level of Johnson’s team on Sunday.
He and crew chief Steve Letarte tried a variety of adjustments and different pit strategies in an attempt to improve track position. Some on-track run-ins with Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya didn’t make Gordon's job any easier.
On the final stops with 40 laps remaining, Gordon took four tires and restarted 12th but could only pick up two more positions before the finish.
“I tried everything and it just wouldn’t work,” Gordon said. “Whatever they got, we’re missing. We know everything they’ve got but, man, we’re just not hitting on it.
“We’re coming up short here in the crucial time. Those guys have just knocked it out of the ballpark. It’s tough to beat that even when you are running on all eight cylinders.”
All is not lost for Gordon. He can still earn his best points finish since his 2001 series championship and best performance since the Chase for the Nextel Cup format was adopted for the 2004 season.
“We didn’t step up and win the races when we needed to. We gave them a run for a while,” he said. “Now we have to figure out how to get the best finish we can at Homestead and end the season on a positive note.”