In what has been a trying season, Jeff Gordon faced more adversity in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. But despite the misfortune he was still able to recover and finish a hard-fought second to Martin Truex Jr.
Gordon's bad luck began when he entered pit lane for what should have been a routine green-flag pit stop, but as he did so NASCAR called a caution for rain. Thinking he was on pit road before the yellow was displayed, Gordon's team serviced the No. 24 Chevrolet.
On a course where track position is everything, this would have been a decided advantage.
Upon review, however, it was determined the caution was out before Gordon had hit pit road, which meant his pit stop was against the rules. He was subsequently penalized and forced to drop to the rear of the field. A potential shot at his first win of the year was seemingly gone.
"We were trying to beat that caution and just missed it by a split second," Gordon said. "Right as I committed to come to pit road I saw the red light come up, and I knew that that was going to cost us a lot."
Restarting 38th, he began his long climb back towards the front. It was a daunting task as Sonoma presents limited passing opportunities. Also not helping Gordon's cause was the rough-and-tumble nature of the race where he was nearly collected in several incidents.
"This team has been faced with a lot worse adversity than that," Gordon said. "Luckily we had a fast race car and stayed with our pit strategy, and things went our way. There was a bunch of wrecks that happened right in front of me that I was able to avoid, and we just had a really good race car and were able to drive up through. That part was a lot of fun."
The runner-up was Gordon's best finish in a season that has been marked by inconsistency with five finishes of 25th or worse. A week ago at Michigan he was scored in 39th after a crash with Bobby Labonte, which dropped him five spots in the standings.
The inconsistency has placed Gordon in a precarious position with just 10 races remaining before the Chase.
Heading into next week's race at Kentucky Speedway, he sits 13th overall, 12 points behind 10th-place Truex. And because he doesn't have a win and has yet to post a top-10 in consecutive weeks, making the playoffs presents another challenge in a season full of them.
However, being consumed with pursuing points is not something Gordon is concerned with. His strategy to claim another Chase berth is rather straightforward.
I think that one of the things that we've learned but we need to do more of, me personally, is stop looking at the points," Gordon said. "Because it seems like every time we get close to the top 10 and I start going, ‘Ooh, we're close to the top 10, we can make it in the top 10,' something happens.
"We're just going to go and push hard and perform and try to put more finishes like this together."