Gordon focused on big picture, not perks


HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Jeff Gordon ended a disappointing year
with a disappointing finish at NASCAR's season finale.

After leading for 39 laps and running near the front for much of
the race, Gordon faded to finish ninth at the Ford 400 at
Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday and ended up 11th in the Nextel
Cup points standings.

It was far from where the four-time series champion wanted to
end up -- for the race and the series -- but it guaranteed him a $1
million payout and earned him an invitation to the prestigious
postseason awards banquet Dec. 2 in New York City.

Gordon cared little about the added perks, which stem from being
the top finisher outside the Chase for the championship.

"All that matters to me is performing and running up front,"
he said. "The points always take care of themselves when you run
good. All that matters to me is battling for wins and being

Gordon has earned a seat at the banquet during each of his 13
years on the circuit. His worst points finish was 14th as a rookie
in 1993, but he was named rookie of the year and earned a trip to
New York for the festivities.

Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were the two most notable drivers
who missed making the 10-man field for the Chase in September. Both
drivers committed themselves to turning around their seasons during
the final 10 races and gaining momentum for next year.

Gordon felt like he did. Crew chief Robbie Loomis stepped down
after Gordon missed the Chase, and Steve Letarte was hired for the
final 10 races.

Gordon had five top-10 finishes during that span -- all in the
last seven races -- and finished first at Martinsville, Va., second at
Atlanta and third last week at Phoenix.

"I really never focused one time on points throughout this last
10 races," Gordon said. "Our focus was on just trying to make our
team better, and I think we did."

Gordon finished 44 points ahead of Jamie McMurray for the 11th
spot. Elliott Sadler was 13th.

Earnhardt finished a career-low 19th in the standings. He was
16th as a rookie in 2000.