NASCAR: Notebook: Last-lap spin could KO Jeff Gordon's Chase chances
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Less than a half-mile from the finish line, Jeff Gordon was looking at a seventh-place finish in Sunday's Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen International -- before a spin in oil he couldn't see cost him dearly.
When Gordon lost control on the slick surface in Turn 7 -- the final corner -- on Lap 90, he dropped from seventh to 21st and simultaneously fell out of the second provisional wild-card spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Gordon questioned NASCAR's decision not to throw a caution flag when driver after driver began to complain about the oily conditions -- which many attributed to the No. 47 Toyota of Bobby Labonte -- during the final two laps.
"I'm just really disappointed, because we fought hard today to come back to get what was going to be a pretty nice finish," said Gordon, who now trails Ryan Newman by 10 points and Kyle Busch by four in the contest for the second wild-card berth. "The points are going to be what the points are going to be. We can't control what other people do.
"We can only control what we do, and today, we took back control when we got off (with the handling of the No. 24 Chevrolet), and we were coming. It's just unfortunate that that gets taken away from you because NASCAR doesn't want to end the race under yellow. I understand. You want to keep it entertaining and give the winner (Marcos Ambrose) a shot at it, but there's a lot of other things going on out there, too.
"I think they completely disregarded that, and, hey, it's over now. We'll move on."
MISTAKE COSTS EARNHARDT JR. THE POINTS LEAD
Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun, too, but that was a mistake of his own making.
With six laps left in Sunday's race, Earnhardt drove too aggressively through the inner loop at the 2.45-mile road course and lost control as he entered the carousel.
Earnhardt, who was running 10th at the time, flat-spotted his tires and had to pit for fresh rubber. He finished 28th, fell from first to fourth in the Cup standings and trails leader Jimmie Johnson (third Sunday) by 17 points with four races left before the Chase field is set at Richmond.
"I made a mistake there at the end of the race that cost us a lot of spots," Earnhardt said. "I was just over my head. I was way over my head driving at the end there, just driving like a dummy, just driving way too hard."
The oily track also cost Kyle Busch a likely victory -- and much firmer footing in the Chase race.
Seeking his second win of the season, Busch led at the white flag but spun in oil in the first corner thereafter and surrendered the lead to eventual runner-up Brad Keselowski, who likewise slid through the oil and tagged Busch's No. 18 Toyota and turned it sideways.
"There was another car in the field that blew a motor (and went by us)," said Dave Rogers, Busch's crew chief, referring to Labonte's No. 47. "We knew he blew a motor, and instead of getting off the race track like he should have, he tried to stay out there and run two extra laps, and when he did, he ran right through the groove.
"That was a mistake by another driver -- oil on the field, and the rest of us had to deal with it. Kyle was just the first one there."
Though Busch nevertheless finished seventh, a victory would have been much more valuable. Only one driver in a provisional wild-card position (Kasey Kahne) has two victories this season. Busch trails Ryan Newman (also with one win) for the second and final wild-card spot by six points with four races left.