(Eds: Inserts dropped word "car" in2nd paragraph. With AP Photos.)
By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) - When a car crashed in his front yard, Jeff Gordon tweeted a photo of the vehicle stuck in his hedges.
He was immediately flooded with responses, many asking if the throttle had hung open on the blue sports car that was now doubling as a lawn ornament.
Gordon was able to laugh about it Thursday, four days after a stuck throttle caused him to crash in the opening race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He'd been running in the top five most of the race, wound up 35th, and goes to Round 2 at New Hampshire ranked last in the 12-driver Chase field.
He's confident a Hendrick Motorsports team that was soaring after Gordon raced his way into the Chase at Richmond on Sept. 8 will rebound from the hard fall at Chicago.
"I wouldn't say we're going over the next nine weeks going, `Oh man, we're the team to beat,"' Gordon said. "But we're not going to stop. We're not going to give up. We proved once this year on how we made it into the Chase. Nothing would be sweeter than to prove we can win a championship, even with this."
Gordon said a bracket mounted to the spring return had been designed specifically for him to be used with NASCAR's new electronic fuel injection system, and the problem with his throttle stemmed from that.
"It's something that I'm surprised didn't happen sooner to us, just the way our bracket was mounted, it just broke," Gordon said. "It didn't stick wide open. It just stuck enough to where I carried enough speed to hit the wall. The impact wasn't that severe."
Gordon talked about the accident during an appearance at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he unveiled the Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle paint scheme he'll use in the Oct. 13 race. His 2-year-old son, Leo, was on hand to help uncover the car and meet the turtles.
Those are the kind of moments the four-time series champion is treasuring these days, and he said he's had no greater joy then celebrating his July win at Pocono with his wife and two children. He said his kids love racing, the cars and the paint schemes, but are typically unaware of the magnitude of crashes like Sundays.
"For what happened in Chicago, (Ella) was there and she knew it didn't go well," Gordon said. "She knows when it goes well because she gets to go to Victory Lane. But she knows some days it's a good day and some days it's a really disappointing day."
The bad day at Chicago led Gordon to shave the vintage mustache he'd promised to grow back if he made the Chase. CMS president Marcus Smith got Gordon to promise he will breakdance - he was pretty good as a younger man - in Victory Lane if he wins at Charlotte.
"I've already proven I'm a man of my word," Gordon said. "There's always going to be motivation on things. Whether it's something that Rick Hendrick oversells on and has to live up to, something that he's going to give to a win, or me committing to something, that's fine. We've got a car that can win, there's no doubt in my mind."
Showing just how strong the No. 24 team really is will be the task for Gordon over the next nine weeks. He lingered on the Chase bubble for most of the season, got his only win in July and needed that big run at Richmond to beat Kyle Busch by three points for the final berth in the Chase field.
He said he certainly felt the pressure as team owner Hendrick had made it a goal to get all four drivers into the Chase, and Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kasey Kahne were already in the field. Racing his way in was a morale booster for Gordon, who won his last championship in 2001, and for his race team.
"Making it in, and the way he made it in, was really big. It gave us that boost that we desperately needed," he said. "I've always said I don't want to be in this sport driving around. If I am going to be in it, I want to be competitive, be healthy and I want to enjoy myself. Those three things have to all come together in order for me to want to stay out there.
"By making the Chase the way we did, battling like that, was good for me personally because it made people believe that I still have that drive."