Three. It doesn’t seem like a big number, yet it is a significant one for Jeff Gordon.
In a fierce battle with Joey Logano over the course of the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Gordon was able to take the checkered flag for the third time in the 2014 season. Leading 69 of the 200 laps, he tied his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. with three wins each through 23 races.
With the victory, Gordon retakes the lead in the championship standings – giving him the top seed in the Chase for the Sprint Cup as long as Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. or Brad Keselowski do not score more wins than he does until Richmond. This is the first time since 2011 that Gordon has scored three victories in a season, and the last time he won more than three races in a single year was back in 2007, where he fell just short of winning his fifth title.
“It’s never easy to win at any of these tracks, especially when aerodynamics and track position mean so much,” Gordon said. “I thought we learned a lot the last time we were here on track position. Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) just called a perfect race. I kept getting on that inside lane and just not getting very good restarts. I knew it was going to get exciting with Kurt (Busch) and Joey (Logano). Those two are very, very aggressive; and of course Kurt got loose.”
“I didn’t have any trouble with my car sticking all day and I could be really aggressive with the car through the corners. But, the No. 24 and the No. 22 kind of got jammed up a little bit there and I was able to get a good run. The No. 22 tried to move up, but I was going to stay in the throttle one way or the other. We don’t have anything to lose at this point and that was our only chance to have a win.”
Logano led a race-high 86 laps on Sunday afternoon, but he just didn’t have enough for Gordon on the final restart. After debris was found in Turn 2 from Kurt Busch’s car, the caution flag flew with approximately 20 laps to go. The No. 22 car had a comfortable gap over Gordon’s Chevrolet, but he just couldn’t hold on during the restart. Kevin Harvick was able to get by Logano to finish in the runner-up position; scoring his fifth runner-up finish of the year.
Johnson had a roller coaster day in his No. 48 car. His crew had to hand him vice grip in the middle of a green-flag pit stop due to a problem with his shifter. As he drove his vehicle back on track, he attempted to put the grip on his shifter, but that didn’t work to the team’s planning. During a caution several laps later, a crew member was able to put it in his car, but at that point – Johnson was a lap down. He was able to come back to finish in the ninth position, albeit he did have a run in with Ryan Newman following the race.
Paul Menard finished the 400-mile event in the fourth position. He finished in the same position in the race at Michigan earlier this year; his best result of the season. Greg Biffle was able to capture a top-10 finish on Sunday afternoon. He was the strongest of the Roush Fenway Racing cars during the event. With an eighth-place finish, Biffle recorded his eighth top 10 of the year and is now in position to make the Chase.
Kyle Busch had trouble at Michigan; marking the third straight week he finished 39th or worse. On Lap 4, Busch hit the wall hard and was forced to go to the garage area. However, even with the poor finish, he clinched a spot in the Chase.
Following the competition caution, Danica Patrick got loose in Turn 2. Patrick spun underneath her teammate Jeff Burton. Trevor Bayne, Michael Annett, Matt Kenseth, Justin Allgaier and Martin Truex Jr. were each involved in the incident. On Lap 97, Kyle Larson blew a tire after running strong early in the race. Larson fell back outside of the top-20, but was making his way back towards the front of the field. However, when his car hit the wall, the No. 42 Chevrolet caught on fire. This was the first time in the Sprint Cup Series that an incident like this has occurred with the new policy that was announced on Friday morning. He was enabled to exit the car immediately, but did so extremely carefully.