For Jeff Gordon on Sunday, it was a 1-inch error that had mile-long consequences.
Gordon seemingly had a great shot at winning the Sylvania 300 when he pitted with about 100 laps left after debris on the track brought out the caution flag. Gordon overshot his pit stall slightly, NASCAR inspectors noticed, and it cost Gordon precious track position en route to 15th-place finish.
Gordon apologized profusely to his crew over the radio, then he offered a “my bad” postrace.
“I’m highly disappointed in myself,” Gordon said. “The team put me in a great position. We had a decent car and then track position made it into a great car. So it was obviously important to maintain that.
“I came in (to the pit) and slid through. I hadn’t come sliding through all day and I guess just leading (he was top two at the time) I carried a little bit more speed in there and crossed the splitter over the line by an inch. That’s all it takes to make a difference between a chance at winning and finishing 15th.”
Gordon needed all four tires on that stop because he’d taken only two the previous stop when most drivers took four. That amplified his mistake. He emerged from the pit stop 22nd, and it took a lot just to reduce the damage to a 15th-place finish.
The damage to his Chase chances wasn’t huge: Gordon was seventh in the 13-driver standings after the race at Chicagoland. Now he’s eighth, 42 points behind leader Matt Kenseth.
Gordon said an error like Sunday’s was particularly costly at New Hampshire. The track’s layout – approximately a mile long with minimal banking – puts a premium on track position because passing is so difficult.
“We lost quite a bit of ground to those guys up front, but not too much as far as getting in the top five in points,” Gordon said. “I think we were very capable of doing (well), but the driver can’t make mistakes. This was one of those days.
“This is a short race (300 laps), and track position is so important. You can’t make mistakes. I made a crucial one, and I can’t allow that to happen if we’re going to get ourselves in the top five in points this year.”
Did Gordon know he’d overstepped the line?
“I knew it was close. When I got in there the front started to slide. … I knew it was going to be close, but I was hoping it would stop just at the line. I saw the official react, and I knew we were in trouble.”
How does he bounce back?
“Oh, I’ve been doing this for 20-some years,” Gordon concluded. “It’s not like I’ve never made mistakes before, but you just hate to make them at a crucial time like that.”