HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Jeff Gordon is acting as if he’s ready to become one of NASCAR’s elder statesmen.
Gordon was in a reflective mood Sunday, only a few minutes after finishing fourth in Sunday’s Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway – a finish in the season finale that wasn’t good enough for him to overtake Jimmie Johnson for the Nextel Cup championship.
The runner-up spot to Johnson was difficult, but it was otherwise a rewarding year for Gordon, 36. He won six races, including two stretches in which he won two in a row. He and wife Ingrid had their first baby, Ella, in June.
But Gordon was unable overtake Johnson for his fifth championship, something that bothers him as he takes stock of his 15-year career.
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“Every time you win a race or a championship, you think it could be the last,” said Gordon. “You’re so appreciative of it because you work so hard. But you never know when it’s going to happen again.
“That’s what’s the toughest about this year. I’m not getting any younger and I put up as good of numbers as I can and it wasn’t enough. That’s tough to handle as a competitor.”
Especially frustrating for Gordon was that his average finish of 5.1 in 10 Chase races wasn’t good enough to win the title.
“I will take a 5.1 average the rest of my career in the Chase,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that will win championships.”
Johnson won four of the last five Chase races, giving him a lead that was insurmountable at Homestead. His average finish was 5.0.
“I guess you had to do better,” Johnson said, when asked what he’d tell Gordon about the closeness of that margin.
“Jeff had an awesome year. We got on a tear, and were able to squeak out a little more. The victories made the difference.”
Another frustration for Gordon: Johnson’s aggressive philosophy trumped Gordon’s more conservative approach to the Chase.
“It’s always a risk vs. reward,” said Gordon. “What made them so good was they pushed the limit to win races and they didn’t make mistakes. We got a little conservative. Those guys beat us, that’s the bottom line. But those are things we’ll look at for next year.”
So, Gordon ended this season looking ahead while learning from the past.
“It was one heck of a total year,” Gordon said. “I love the Chase. I love what it’s about. But for the whole year it’s a little tough. I’m very happy for Jimmie and all those guys. But I really wanted it.”