Gordon on cusp of winless season and searching for answers

Updated: November 17, 2008, 2:50 PM ET

AP Photo/Jim Bounds

It hasn't been the kind of season on the track Jeff Gordon, left, was hoping for. Daughter Ella Sophia, center, and wife Ingrid Vandebosch, right, check out the No. 24 before the race at Martinsville.

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- One Hendrick Motorsports driver is on the brink of his greatest moment. Another one could be a week away from one of his biggest disappointments.

While Jimmie Johnson will probably celebrate his historic third consecutive Cup title next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, teammate Jeff Gordon will probably shake his head over a winless season and wonder what happened.

An Explanation To Our Viewers

If you were watching the live telecast Sunday of the NASCAR Sprint Cup race from Phoenix in the Eastern and Central time zones of the country, you know that at about 7:30 p.m. ET, the remainder of the telecast was switched from from ABC to ESPN2. On Monday, ESPN explained the decision, issuing this statement:

"After two red flags, rain in Phoenix and 4 1/2 hours on ABC, we were still 34 minutes from the end of the telecast as it turned out. We told fans in the East and Central from the second red flag on that the race was moving to ESPN2. ABC's entertainment viewers and NASCAR fans were both well served in a tough spot, and we are fortunate to have ESPN2 among our networks to serve the fans."

Gordon needs a victory in the season finale to continue a 14-year streak of winning seasons. His rookie year of 1993 is the only time he failed to win a race.

Gordon won six races one year ago when he finished second to Johnson in the Chase. He ranks seventh in the 2008 Chase after another bad day Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.

An engine failure resulted in a 41st-place finish. It was a slow and painful end as he limped along with seven cylinders before the motor finally blew.

"I'm not sure what happened to the engine," Gordon said. "I felt it early on. I started to lose some power, but I didn't pay much attention to it because we were still getting plenty of RPM.

"The car still was running good, then all of a sudden it started really going down and I felt it lose a cylinder. It was probably a valve. We tried to ride it out as long as we could, but we knew it was a matter of time."

Time isn't on Gordon's side now. He needs a victory at one of the two tracks where he never has won (Texas is the other) to keep his winning streak alive.

Gordon thought he had a shot at winning on the 1-mile oval at Phoenix. He was running fifth when the engine started to sputter.

"That's the kind of year we've had," Gordon said. "It's pretty disappointing. We've had a lot of stuff happen to us, but engines haven't been one of them. Now we can add that to the mix. It's just unfortunate.

"We had a good run going today. But every time we get the car running good, something happens. We were moving up in points and doing everything we needed to do to close out this year on a positive note. Not going to be now."

But winning at Homestead isn't out of the question. Gordon has finished in the top 10 in five of the past six races on the 1.5-mile oval, including four times in the top five.

A victory would be a satisfying way to end a disappointing season -- Gordon in Victory Lane while his teammate celebrates his third consecutive title.

In some ways, it must be hard to understand. Gordon's and Johnson's cars are built in the same building by the same guys. But Johnson now is the star of the sport while Gordon is trying to find the magic that made him one of the best in NASCAR history.

And Gordon is the man who brought Johnson to Cup and convinced Rick Hendrick to hire him.

"Jeff is a real champion," Hendrick said. "He's had a rough year, but I've seen him put his arm around this organization when we just didn't give him stuff good enough."

Win or lose next weekend, Gordon will celebrate Johnson's achievement and congratulate him. Gordon also may wonder why his season didn't match up.

-- Terry Blount

Nationwide Series: Edwards reels in Bowyer

Clint Bowyer's Nationwide Series championship hopes nearly vanished in an instant Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway. Bowyer, though, rebounded like a champion -- which he may well become at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Bowyer got into the back of David Ragan as cars stacked up on a Lap 79 restart and damaged the front end of his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Bowyer took the ensuing restart in 25th -- which would have been quite problematic on a day when Carl Edwards wound up in Victory Lane yet again.

But Bowyer fought his way to a fourth-place finish and lost just 35 points off of his lead. Bowyer now leads the defending Nationwide Series champion by 56 points heading to Homestead.

If Bowyer finishes eighth or better under the lights in South Florida, he'll clinch the championship no matter Edwards' result.

If Bowyer finishes ninth or worse, it opens the door for Edwards as he continues trying to complete a monumental comeback that has seen him gain 151 points on Bowyer in the past six races.

Edwards has eight straight top-5 finishes, with three victories among them. If he wins the championship, he'll become just the second driver in 27 years to overtake the points leader heading into the finale. Rob Moroso overcame a 19-point deficit to Tommy Houston in 1989.

The smallest margin heading into the finale came in 1986, when Larry Pearson led Brett Bodine by 17 points. Bodine chopped 10 points off the deficit, but it wasn't enough.

Edwards, though, hopes to fare better than Bodine did that year, even though Edwards is facing a bigger deficit. He cut into the gap at PIR by leading the final 78 laps.

"We needed this today. We need to win this race," Edwards said Saturday. "We needed to lead the most laps. I'm really proud of how my guys performed. They made up for any of the bad [pit] stops with that last one, so that was good. [It was] definitely a good day; a fun race. I like this race track a lot. Some of the best races that I've had have been here and I enjoy it."

Not surprisingly, Jack Roush was ecstatic to see Edwards' Roush Fenway Racing Ford in Victory Lane. He made the decision to replace crew chief Pierre Kuettel with Drew Blickensderfer back in June, and the move sparked something in the team.

It might be enough to earn the championship. Either way, Roush was happy in the Valley of the Sun.

"I'm in the presence of fast people again. I enjoy the presence of the guys and the girls that put this race team together. They keep it working," Roush said. "Drew came on the scene with Carl about a third of the way into the season and rebuilt the thing for strength to bring some fresh ideas. Today the unsung heroes were for sure the pit crew, who got Carl out first there. He had a fast enough car and he was able to hang on to it.

"But it is hard to pass here. I heard Carl comment to the track manager, 'Don't ever repave this racetrack.' A surface that is worn down like this where you slide around … gives a driver a chance to do his business. Drew was on his game with his tire pressure and they made just a little tweak on the pit stop. The pit stops the last time, I think, that he actually didn't make a change but had one little change before and it all came together. But Carl was the man of the hour standing up on the seat, pushing on a bent gas pedal."

Bowyer's rally kept him in the driver's seat for the championship, but if the past eight weeks are any indication, Edwards won't go down without one more fight.

-- Mark Ashenfelter

Craftsman Truck Series: Benson, Hornaday remain in lockstep after Phoenix

These guys are made for each other. As Ron Hornaday Jr. said Friday night, maybe he and Johnny Benson should go fishing for the Craftsman Truck Series title. First bite wins.

Trying to come closer to resolution on the track didn't go so well.

Hornaday, gunning to become both the first back-to-back and the first four-time series champion, started the evening at Phoenix's mile oval six points down and appeared to throw the title bid away on the third turn of the first lap. Starting on the pole, Hornaday battled second-starting Kyle Busch on that first lap as if it were the last, losing control and skidding up into the wall. He sustained damage on impact, and on the way back down the track, he smacked trucks that couldn't avoid his mess.

"It looked like I never raced for a championship in my life," the Kevin Harvick Inc. veteran said.

As the No. 33 Chevrolet completed its sad trickle to the infield grass, Benson's No. 23 Toyota caught a piece and drove away with a mangled right side. But the Bill Davis Racing points leader was able to continue driving.

Hornaday was forced behind the wall for some 28 laps' time while the KHI crew along with helping hands from other teams made extensive repairs. The truck made it back out, but it was destined for no better than a finish in the mid-20s unless major mayhem ensued the rest of the night.

That wasn't to be, but Hornaday got all the mayhem he needed -- a crash by Benson. On Lap 87, Benson slammed the wall after a run-in with T.J. Bell and needed repairs just as extensive as Hornaday's.

Benson's truck never got fully righted, crashing again with 24 laps to go and ending the night behind the wall in 26th, 52 laps down. Hornaday, amazingly, finished 25th at 34 laps down and chopped half his points deficit in a night that appeared lost on Lap 1. He now trails Benson by a scant three markers.

It might have been the guilty-pleasure race of the year in all of NASCAR. (By the way, it was won by Hornaday's teammate and owner, Kevin Harvick). Why watch your title contenders battle for a win when you can see them turn their rides into junkers appropriate for your local track's Saturday night demolition derby? They should have been sent home with no prize money or points and told to come back the next night and try again.

Instead, they'll come back Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway to settle the closest title battle in series history. Benson and Hornaday should battle until the last lap -- unless, of course, they don't. Even then they'll probably still find one another, back in the pack or behind the wall. It's been that kind of fight.

-- John Schwarb

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Jimmie Johnson fires off another win at Phoenix, burning Carl Edwards' chances of winning the championship. NASCAR's Brian France is fully aware that some car owners are hurting financially.
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Racing Resources Says …

Sprint Cup Series

Jimmie Johnson

Johnson

  • Jimmie Johnson won the Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. He posted his 40th career series victory in his 254th career race. Johnson posted his seventh victory in 2008, second behind Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch, who each have eight wins in 2008. Johnson's last victory came at Martinsville in October, three races ago. He posted his third straight win at Phoenix. Johnson posted his ninth top-10 finish in 11 races at Phoenix. Johnson won the race from the first-place starting position. This marked just the second time in 25 series races at Phoenix that the race was won from the pole. Johnson posted his 14th win in 49 Chase races. He posted his 30th career superspeedway victory in 170 superspeedway races. Johnson led three times for 217 laps, including the final 95.
  • Chevrolet has clinched its sixth straight Manufacturers' championship, and its 32nd overall.
  • Hendrick Motorsports posted its eighth victory in 2008: Johnson has seven, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. won once. Hendrick Motorsports posted its sixth Phoenix series victory. Four of those wins came in the past four Phoenix races: Jeff Gordon in April 2007, Johnson in November 2007 and in both races in 2008.
  • Race winner and points leader Jimmie Johnson has scored top-15 finishes in the past 11 races, extending a streak that began at California in August. Johnson is the only driver to score top-15 finishes in the nine Chase races. Johnson has a 4.67 average finish in the nine Chase races.
  • Kevin Harvick (finished 7th), Greg Biffle (11th) and Clint Bowyer (12th) have each scored eight top-15 finishes in the nine Chase races.
  • Johnson and Biffle are the only Chase drivers to lead in eight of the nine Chase races. They were the only Chase drivers to lead at Phoenix.
  • Johnson has led in 28 of the 35 races this season, more than any other driver. He led 217 laps at Phoenix. Johnson has led 955 laps in the nine Chase races. Carl Edwards is second in Chase laps led at 489 laps.
  • With a 141-point lead (unofficial), Johnson will win the championship if he finishes 36th or better at Homestead no matter what second-place Carl Edwards does. Mathematically, only Johnson and Edwards can win the championship. The driver with one race to go in each of the four Chases has gone on to win the championship. This is the largest points lead ever with one race to go in the Chase.
  • The championship leader with one race to go has gone on to win the championship all but twice since 1975 (when the present points system was implemented). Alan Kulwicki was second, 30 points behind leader Davey Allison in 1992, and Richard Petty trailed Darrell Waltrip by two points in 1979 -- the closest points margin with one to go.
  • Johnson is in position to win three straight championships, a feat only accomplished once before: Cale Yarborough in 1976, 1977 and 1978. Johnson could become only the eighth driver to win three or more championships in NASCAR's 60-year history.
  • Going into the final race there are only two drivers who can win the championship, just like in 2007. In 2004 and 2006 there were six drivers alive, and four drivers were alive in 2005.
  • No driver has ever won both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup championships in the same year. Carl Edwards is alive to do both but remains second in both series.
  • Gordon has gone 40 races without a victory, his longest streak between victories. He posted his sixth DNF in 2008 and ended a streak of four straight top-10 finishes.
  • Jamie McMurray (third) has scored four top-10 finishes in the past five races.
  • Kevin Harvick has been running at the finish in the past 79 races, the longest current streak by any driver.
  • This was the 11th win for Chevrolet in 2008. Ford and Toyota each have 10 and Dodge has four.
  • The top 10 consisted of four Chevrolets, three Fords, two Toyotas and one Dodge.
  • Seven of the top 10 finishers were Chasers.
  • Greg Biffle won the first two Chase races, Tony Stewart won at Talladega, Jeff Burton won at Lowe's, Jimmie Johnson won at Kansas, Martinsville and Phoenix and Carl Edwards won at Atlanta and Texas.
  • Just two of the 12 Chase drivers earned lap-leader bonus points at Phoenix by leading at least one lap: Johnson and Biffle.
  • Six of the 12 Chase drivers changed positions after Atlanta.
  • Regan Smith (23rd) was the highest-finishing rookie of the year contender.

Nationwide Series

Carl Edwards

Edwards

  • Carl Edwards won the Hefty Odor Block 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. He posted the 19th series victory in his 140th career start. Edwards led one time for the final 78 laps. Edwards led the most laps in the race.
  • While running seventh, points leader Clint Bowyer was involved in a Lap 79 restart accident that caused front-end damage. He restarted 25th after repairing the front end on pit road. He recovered to finish fourth and now has just a 56-point lead over second-place Edwards with one race remaining. Bowyer lost 35 points of his lead to Edwards. Bowyer posted his series-leading 28th top-10 finish.
  • Edwards has gained 151 points in his past six races, posting eight straight top-5 finishes that include three wins.
  • The series championship leader with one to go has gone on to win the championship all but once in the 26 seasons. Rob Moroso was second, 19 points behind leader Tommy Houston in 1989, when Moroso won the title.
  • In only two of the past 11 seasons has the points lead been less than 166 points with one race to go.
  • The points lead was less than 100 points with one race to go 11 times in 27 seasons, including this year.
  • The closest points battle with one race to go was in 1986, when Larry Pearson led Brett Bodine by 17 points. Pearson went on to win by seven.
  • If Bowyer finishes eighth or better in Homestead, he will win the championship no matter what Edwards does.
  • This is the closest the points race has been since Race No. 11, following Richmond. Bowyer led Edwards by nine points then.
  • Bowyer's largest lead of 2008 was 207 points following Richmond. Edwards is now in sole possession of 13th on NASCAR's all-time series wins list after posting his sixth win of the 2008 season.
  • Edwards posted his second series victory at Phoenix in his eight start; his first Phoenix victory came in the fall of 2005.
  • Roush Fenway Racing posted its seventh win of the 2008 season and fifth series win at Phoenix.
  • Ford posted its eighth series victory of the 2008 season.
  • Rookie Landon Cassill (finished sixth) tied his career-best finish set at Gateway.
  • Joey Logano, who finished 10th, posted his 13th top-10 finish in 18 career races.
  • This was the 10th green-white-checkered finish in 2008.
  • The top 10 consisted of four Toyotas, four Chevrolets, and two Fords. Justin Allgaier (11th) was the highest-finishing Dodge.

Craftsman Truck Series

Kevin Harvick

Harvick

  • Kevin Harvick won the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix International Raceway. He posted his third series victory in his 94th career start. All three of Harvick's wins have come at Phoenix International Raceway. Harvick led 60 laps in the event, including the final 51. Harvick recorded his sixth win at Phoenix (two in Sprint Cup, one in Nationwide and three in Trucks).
  • Kevin Harvick Inc. posted its 17th series victory. It was KHI's eighth of the 2008 season -- the most of any team. Kevin Harvick Inc. has won the past three series races with three different drivers. (Ryan Newman at Atlanta, Ron Hornaday Jr. at Texas and Harvick at Phoenix). It's the first time this has occurred in series history.
  • Kyle Busch, who finished second, posted his 15th top-10 finish in 17 starts this season. He has finished first or second six times this season. Busch pitted on Lap 130 and restarted 16th on Lap 134. He came back to finish second, 0.941 of a second behind. Busch led the most laps in the race (90 of 150), the sixth time in 2008 that he has led the most laps.
  • On Lap 1, Hornaday and Busch were battling side by side for the lead in Turn 3, Hornaday got loose and hit the wall, then was hit by four other trucks, one being points leader Johnny Benson. Benson made several pit stops to repair damage. Hornaday went behind the wall for repairs and came back to the track on Lap 29.
  • On Lap 86, Benson and T.J. Bell got together in Turn 1. Benson received heavy damage and went behind the wall for 38 laps for repairs. Bell's day was over.
  • Hornaday finished 25th (34 laps down) and Johnny finished 26th (49 laps down).
  • Hornaday gained three points on Benson; he is now only three points behind the leader. This is the closest points battle with one race to go in series history; the previous was 13 in 1998, when Hornaday was leading Jack Sprague.
  • Benson has lost 62 points to Hornaday over the past three races; he had a 65-point lead following Martinsville.
  • Chevrolet posted its 10th win of the 2008 season.
  • Brian Scott, who finished fourth, was the best finishing of the four rookie of the year contenders in the race. It was Scott's career-best finish.
  • Brad Keselowski, sixth, recorded his best career finish.
  • The top 10 featured four Toyotas, three Chevrolets, and three Fords. Dennis Setzer, who finished 15th, was the highest finishing Dodge.
  • The race was slowed seven times for 41 laps.

-- Racing Resources