Power Rankings: Gordon behind eight ball after shaky Chase opener

by | NASCAR Blogger

Brad Keselowski gets his Chase off to a fast start with a win at Chicagoland. (US Presswire)  
Brad Keselowski gets his Chase off to a fast start with a win at Chicagoland. (US Presswire)  

A driver can't win the Sprint Cup championship in the first race of the Chase, but can a title be lost?

Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon sure hope not.

Both suffered through bad outings in Sunday's Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway and promptly dropped to the bottom of the Chase standings.

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Gordon charged into Chicago after his exciting run to the final wild-card berth in Richmond. The week leading into the opening Chase race was filled with talk of emotion, rebirth and momentum for the four-time champion.

But that all ended when Gordon's throttle stuck and sent the DuPont Chevrolet hard into the wall.

"We were having a good day," Gordon said. "The guys did an awesome job in the pits and tuning on the car and who knows what we could have done with them at the end. But we had a throttle stick.

"It didn't stick wide-open; I just let off the throttle and it just didn't come all the way back and it's probably about half-throttle, which is enough to do a lot of damage. We're looking at what the issue is right now to see what could have caused it. Something I think in the return spring."

Although he came back out for a few laps, Gordon was credited with a 35th-place finish and fell to the basement of the standings now 47 points out of the lead.

"We were having a good day; coming from 19th to be up there in the top five, and I don't know if we had anything to win the race, but we certainly were giving it everything we had and that's very disappointing," said Gordon.

Kenseth's day started well with a third-place spot on the grid, but uncharacteristic mechanical woes bit the No. 17 Roush Fenway entry Sunday when a right front shock broke and fell off the car.

"A shock fell off, I guess," said Kenseth. "I guess it didn't get tight. We had a brake line get loose at Bristol and a shock fall off today so obviously we have to get to the bottom of that."

Kenseth, who somehow managed to finish 18th Sunday, dropped to 11th in the standings, some 26 points from the top spot. But he wasn't too concerned with his title hopes -- at least yet.

However, the 2003 series champion did acknowledge that the same kind of issues can't continue over the next nine weeks.

"I don't think today has anything to do with next week and going on but we have to do a better job," he said.

Thankfully for both Kenseth and Gordon there is still time to do much better than how things turned out in Chicago.

1Brad Keselowski2
Took over the Chase lead by 20 points thanks to a sixth place finish and Jimmie Johnson?s misfortune. This is now the Penske Racing driver?s championship to lose.
2Jimmie Johnson1
Saw his seven point lead evaporate thanks to a cut tire and trip into the wall on Sunday. Johnson now must hope a similar such fate happens to Keselowski next week at Homestead to have any shot at a sixth title.
3Kyle Busch4
Nearly ran the table in Phoenix by leading all practices and taking the pole had he been able to win the race. But a poor decision on lane choice for a late restart cost Busch a shot at Victory Lane.
4Kasey Kahne5
Ending the year on a positive note but wasn?t able to match his Phoenix victory of last November. Still a solid day with a fourth place performance.
5Clint Bowyer3
Was the victim of Jeff Gordon?s revenge that completely eliminated Bowyer from championship contention. He wasn?t an angel in the turn of events but Bowyer definitely got the worst of the situation.
6Denny Hamlin8
Hamlin?s second place finish in Phoenix a welcome rebound from two weeks of disappointment for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. He?ll be a factor for a win next Sunday in Homestead.
7Kevin Harvick12
Snapped a 44-race winless drought with Sunday?s win ironically coming on the weekend when reports of his evacuation from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 broke out.
8Greg Biffle6
A decent day for ?The Biff? in Phoenix, who was able to dodge all the last lap craziness to bring home his Roush Fenway Racing Ford seventh.
9Joey Logano13
Minding his own business until getting swept up in the Gordon-Bowyer fight. Logano was on his way to a nice effort to follow up his ninth Nationwide Series win on Saturday.
10Ryan Newman14
Rough way to earn a fifth place finish as Newman was one of the unfortunate souls to get caught in the last lap crash on the main straightaway.
11Tony Stewart9
Not a god day at all for Smoke who spun late after making contact racing for position. A 19th place finish for Stewart.
12Matt Kenseth11
Will make the final Sprint Cup start of his career for Roush Fenway Racing next week at Homestead on the heels of a 14th place effort in Phoenix.
13Martin Truex Jr.10
His race was over nearly before it started with a blown engine. After a stellar regular season Truex Jr. has suffered mightily throughout the Chase.
14Carl Edwards15
An 11th place finish for Edwards as he brings to a close one of the most disappointing seasons in his career.

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