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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The word “retirement” has surrounded Jeff Gordon for the last few years, and with heir-apparent Chase Elliott succeeding in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, it’s only intensified this season.
But on Saturday night in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, the four-time Cup champion reminded everyone he’s not done yet, picking up his 89th career win by holding off a hard-charging Kevin Harvick.
It prompted the man who will be 43 years old this year to gleefully say in Victory Lane he feels like he’s 25 again.
“I say that because the racecars I’ve been driving are just making it a lot of fun,” Gordon said. “I just feel so competitive out there, and it makes me feel young again.
“When the cars are this good, my back just doesn’t seem to hurt as much. And the whole retirement thing, I think, is thrown out there too much, and I think I’m somewhat to blame. There’s no secret I’m going to be 43 this year, but if 43 feels like this, I can’t wait for 50.”
It was Gordon’s first win of the year, and third of his career at Kansas – the first two coming in the track’s firs two Cup races in 2001 and 2002.
He got the win despite leading only nine laps all night, and edged out Harvick, who was the dominant car for most of the night, leading a race-high 119 laps.
In the final run, Gordon was able to pull away from Harvick in clean air, but found trouble in traffic.
“That whole last run was really strange for me, because I felt like we had a good stop. We came off pit road and the four tires that we took, the car was hooked up right away and I was excited about that,” Gordon said. “So I started to settle in, and right about the time I settled in, I started getting super loose, especially in (Turns) 3 and 4, and I didn’t know where that came from. Maybe it was traffic.”
As the closing laps clicked off, Harvick inched closer, but mostly because Gordon was racing as conservatively as he could while still holding the lead.
Ultimately it didn’t matter, but Harvick’s closing rate made the final laps a little more tense than he’d have liked.
“There at the end, I was just trying to stay away from traffic,” Gordon said. “I didn’t want to get closed up on anybody. I got through 1 and 2 pretty good, but I got over to 3 and the car just went completely sideways onn me and I couldn’t get on the gas, and I thought I’d look like a bigger idiot if I spun out leading than just trying to make sure I get back to the line first. I gave up some speed there, but we won the race, so it’s all good.”
For Harvick, a night that looked like it would end up great was done-in on pit road – but not by his crew.
Harvick began the final pit sequence well in the lead in front of Gordon, but came out behind the eventual winner. More mistakes on the track were too much for him to overcome.
“We ran out of gas coming to pit road there (at the end), and I was looking at the fuel pressure gauge instead of the tach and lost a bunch of time down pit road, and (then) off of pit road, wound up getting stuck behind (Gordon),” Harvick said. “I caught him, and then I slipped and lost everything I had gained and then gained it all back and just ran out of laps at the end.
“For me, I made a mistake at the end and felt like that’s probably what cost us the chance to stay in front of (Gordon). … It came down to track position, and those guys executed a little bit better than I did.”
Gordon and Harvick weren’t the only drivers to have solid races on Saturday night.
Danica Patrick picked up her career-best finish of seventh after starting ninth. It was just her second career top-10 finish – the other coming in the 2013 Daytona 500, where she finished eighth – and by far the best run she’s ever had on an intermediate track.
“I was really just overall proud that we stayed up front all day. That was the biggest thing,” Patrick said. “When the race started it was about finishing the weekend off right and just staying up there. You know you’re going to go up, you are going to go down a little bit and we sure enough did that, but we more than held our own throughout the whole race.”
The Sprint Cup Series heads back to Charlotte for the Sprint All-Star race next weekend, and are back there again a week after that for the Coca-Cola 600 on May 25.
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