Jeff Gordon wants to put last year's race at Chicagoland Speedway behind him, at least that bumping incident that provoked fans to throw debris onto the track.
If NASCAR fans remember nothing else from last year’s Nextel Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway, they remember the finish: Jeff Gordon bumping Matt Kenseth out of the way on the way to the victory.
Easy for him to say, perhaps, but Gordon insists that incident is in the past and there should be no talk of payback this weekend in Joliet.
"Matt and I have been getting along really well," Gordon said during a teleconference Wednesday. "We’ve been racing really hard and clean on the racetrack … trying to set a precedent from Chicago last year moving forward. It’s just we were battling hard and that accident happened."
Fans responded by hurling debris onto the track.
"I can’t always control how the fans are going to react, but certainly (it’s) something I remember as a great victory," Gordon said. "But it was overshadowed by that spin. And I felt bad about it. I didn’t want to win the race that way."
In fact, Gordon hopes for a replay this year, with a slightly different ending.
"Maybe Matt will be leading," he said, "and (I can) make a nice clean pass on him and win another race and kind of earn that respect back."
Gordon probably won’t have to worry about Kenseth this weekend, but the same can’t be said about one of his teammates.
Kyle Busch was quite vocal about what he perceived as a lack of support from Gordon in Saturday’s race at Daytona. Gordon chalked up those comments to Busch’s frustration at finishing second.
"I think that if he was driving my car, he’d understand that I didn’t really have the opportunity to get down there and help him as easily as it may have looked," Gordon said. "My car didn’t work good all night on the bottom groove. So there really wasn’t much I could do for him. … I’ve just got to guess that in the heat of the moment, that maybe Kyle said some things that maybe he wished he hadn’t."
Like Daytona, this weekend’s race uses the traditional car. That means data from last year can be of some use.
"We should have pretty solid notes and a set-up baseline that we can go from," Gordon said. "Obviously without (suspended crew chief) Steve Letarte there, we’ll have our challenges. But our goals are to qualify better than we did last time, try to have a car that’s as good as that one was last year and have the same results on Sunday."
Finally, A Win
John Force picked up his first NHRA event win of the season Sunday at Bristol and credits it, in part, to changing the chassis.The annual "Racin’ the Bases" celebrity softball game is today at Silver Cross Field in Joliet. A number of NASCAR drivers will face off against celebrities and media. Gates open at 4:30 p.m.
"This ol’ Mustang is finally starting to talk to me," said Force, who has an unusually sensitive relationship with his cars.
The victory extended Force’s streak of winning at least one race a year to 21 years.
On the other side of the coin was Force’s daughter Ashley, who failed to qualify for the first time in her young career.
"It’s especially tough in the Funny Car category against guys who have been chasing championships for years: Dad, Gary Scelzi, Ron Capps, Del Worsham, Tony and Cruz (Pedregon), T.J. (Tommy Johnson Jr.) ," she said. "Every one of them has missed qualifying for a race this year, just like us. It’s not how you would have expected it to go."
Jane Miller is the Journal Star motorsports columnist. Write to her at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3207 or e-mail to email@example.com.