Jeff Gordon knew he wasn't going to capture the pole position in his final Indianapolis Motor Speedway start, but qualifying mid-pack Saturday wasn't what he envisioned.
But 19th is where Gordon will lineup Sunday in his last race in front of a partisan home state crowd. The defending Brickyard 400 winner, who grew up in Pittsboro, Ind., is retiring at the end of the season.
"I'm really disappointed," Gordon said. "The car was good. The car was plenty good enough to get a top 12. It's just on me. I didn't get the lap. It's really hard to gauge just how much more speed is in the track and in the cars right now, even with the sun out. I felt like the car did what I needed it to do. I just didn't go fast enough.
"I just needed to be in the throttle harder."
Track position is critical at Indianapolis, a primarily one-groove track where passing can be difficult. Nine consecutive races have won by drivers starting 16th or better and 12 of the past 13.
Gordon, though, does have a history of qualifying poorly and coming back to win at Indianapolis. He started 27th in 2001, then recovered to score his third of five track victories.
"This team is so good and our race car has proven to be good," Gordon said. "Just because we're qualifying further back than we wanted doesn't mean that we can't get it done tomorrow."
But the introduction of a new high-drag rules package this weekend adds an air of uncertainty whether Gordon can overcome his subpar qualifying effort. The package featuring a significantly taller rear spoiler is supposed to make passing easier by allowing drivers to draft off the car in front of them.
Thus far the results are mixed, however. Drivers were frequently able to close on the car ahead during an extended practice Friday. Except when they pulled to complete a pass, their momentum staled out. Joey Logano described it has having a parachute attached to his car.
Gordon anticipates restarts when cars are bunched together will be the hairiest. As that will be the opportune time to make passes. But he won't know exactly how the new package races until he's in race conditions. Which is why Gordon is "disappointed" with qualifying 19th, because he equates being stuck in track to "walking on eggshells."
"I think that is you try to get too aggressive, you're going to wreck," Gordon said. "You're going to have to aggressive on the restarts. You're going to have to take advantage of those drafts when you get them.
"We all have practiced and run around other cars, although we don't really know until they drop the green flag. I definitely think when cars get side-by-side, it's going to make for an opportunity for the car behind them to pass; I think the restarts are going to be pretty wild and crazy."