Jeff Gordon's faint hopes to secure a fifth NASCAR championship were dealt a serious blow Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Gordon was running in the top-10 when a tire failure sent the No. 24 Chevrolet hard into the outside wall. The incident occurred on Lap 73, and Gordon immediately took his battered car to the garage.
"I just know that the left front went down as I was going down the front straightaway," Gordon told ESPN. "I felt it before I got there, and I just couldn't get it slowed down enough. ... I don't know if that was a slow leak, or if it just went all of a sudden."
Coming off a win the week before at Martinsville Speedway, Gordon had entered Texas third in the standings and 27 points behind co-leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson. However, any chance he had of winning his first championship since 2001 is all but gone.
"It is so unfortunate," Gordon said. "You just can't have things like this happen if you are going to make a run at a championship or battle with those guys. We had a great race car. We just didn't take off good on the restarts, but once we got going by eight to 10 laps into it, boy were we really strong.
"This is definitely going to hurt. We just get what we can out of this day and go on to Phoenix."
After repairs were completed, Gordon returned to the track and finished 38th, 187 laps in arrears of race-winner Johnson, who moved into sole possession of first place, seven points clear of Kenseth. Gordon dropped three spots to sixth overall, and with two races remaining is 69 points behind his teammate.
Gordon's issues were among a rash of tire-related problems Sunday.
Kyle Busch was running second when a cut tire forced him into the Turn 3 wall. The No. 18 car escaped serious damage, and Busch was able to continue on after minor repairs were made by his crew. Eventually, he would get as high as second, before a pit road speeding penalty dropped him down the running order. Busch finished 13th.
"We had a tire problem early and the guys did a great job of fixing the race car," said crew chief Dave Rogers. "That wasn't a bad wreck, but it was bad enough where it could have ruined our day and they all jumped in there and got the side pulled back out, got it away from the tires and the car still had speed in it. Kyle did a phenomenal job of keeping us in the game."