DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Jeff Gordon never expected to sit on the front row of the Daytona 500, but he will do just that after qualifying second on Pole Day at Daytona International Speedway. For one, his team began the morning repairing the car after it fell off the jackstand prior to pre-qualifying technical inspection.
The team, led by crew chief Alan Gustafson, began feverishly repairing the car’s crushed rocker panel and was able to get back in line thanks to a late qualifying draw. But Gordon wasn’t sure what kind of car he would have, much less the confidence to secure a front row spot.
“With the way testing went, I didn’t feel like we had a shot at the pole,” Gordon said. “So my expectations were kind of low. When I started the lap, the car definitely carried good momentum and rpms. I thought, ‘this is going to be better than where we were yesterday.’
“I thought the wind was really in our favor. The gusts were huge today. If you got a big gust, it could really affect your lap… So yeah, I’m surprised. I didn’t expect to be that close. I told Alan, if I had known we might have been that close, I might have driven across the apron to win the pole.”
Now in the twilight of his career, Gordon feels like he has only one thing left to accomplish – win the Chase for the Championship. Gordon is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion under the previous format before the inclusion of the playoff system, and he really wants to win one last title in front of his wife and two young children.
“What I’ve realized as I get older are the things that matter to me,” Gordon said. “I like to make people proud, the people that put a lot of effort into our race team – my parents, crew chiefs like Ray Evernham, my wife and my kids. Those are the things that motivate me, drive me to work harder and accomplish those goals I haven’t yet been able to accomplish.”
By virtue of qualifying on the front row, Gordon’s starting spot is secured as long as he is not forced to go to a backup car as the result of an accident. As a result, Gordon doesn’t expect to practice in a large pack on Wednesday afternoon but hasn't ruled out competing for the win in Thursday’s second Gatorade Duel qualifying event.
“Thursday is a race,” Gordon said. “When you go into a race, you go into it to win. I think Thursday is a very good opportunity to learn about what we need to do to win the Daytona 500. But it’s also very risky to put yourself in some of these positions.”
Gordon says he is going to be smart about how he races on Thursday, mentioning that being aggressive after getting shuffled out of the pack could quickly result in a damaged racecar. He’s instead looking for the balance between winning the Gatorade Duel and learning information that could lead to him winning the Daytona 500.
Starting up front is a benefit that could see him avoid a multicar accident on both Thursday and Sunday – a fact not lost on the four-time Series champion.
“Starting up front in the Duels as well as the Daytona 500 is a great thing,” Gordon said. “When you look at how the (Sprint Unlimited) unfolded last night and how the racing is going to unfold on plate races in general, I think being up front is a premium. I think it always has been but possibly even more so with this specific aero package.