DARLINGTON, S.C. — Jeff Gordon’s season didn’t get any better at one of his most successful tracks.
Gordon twice had to pit because of flat tires, continuing a host of struggles that have left the four-time Sprint Cup champion 23rd in the points.
“We got something broke here, boys,” Gordon told his crew as he headed into the pits for his second flat tire.
Gordon drove the car into the garage after the second flat, his crew inspecting underneath for problems while Gordon waited patiently inside.
It’s been that sort of year for Gordon, who had hoped to find his old form at Darlington Raceway, a track where he’s won seven times.
Gordon had a blown engine at Daytona when he was running fifth. A cut tire at Bristol left him 35th. Two pit road penalties in California dropped Gordon to 26th. Gordon was challenging for the win at Martinsville when he got spun and ended 12th.
Last week at Talladega, Gordon started from the pole yet saw his car overheat to drop him back. He got caught in a later wreck and finished 23rd.
ROUND 2: Time has not smoothed things over between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.
The two Sprint Cup stars stole the show at the Southern 500 last year with their post-race dustup on the way to the garage after Regan Smith’s victory. Harvick was angered with Busch’s tactics late in the race when both were contending for the checkered flag.
Busch, Harvick and Clint Bowyer were three-wide on the narrow track during a late restart when all were trying to chase down Smith. Bowyer went sprawling into the interior wall after contact. As cars spun out behind, Busch gathered his machine, then veered down the track and sent Harvick spinning.
Busch went up against Harvick’s back bumper on pit road when Harvick jumped out and rushed toward Busch’s window where it looked like he took a swing at Busch.
Busch bumped Harvick’s driverless car into the interior wall and headed into the garage.
OLD DARLINGTON? Is Darlington Raceway again “Too Tough To Tame?” Four years after a major repaving project, it seems the old, gnarly, tire-chewing surface is back rearing its ugly head for Sprint Cup’s top racers.
Howard Comstock with SRT Motorsports Engineering said there were “Darlington stripes” on nearly every car you looked at during Friday’s practice. “They tried to pave (tire wear) out of the racetrack when they did the repave in 2008, but it’s back,” Comstock said.
The past few years since the repaving have allowed race teams to use two tires near the end to save time and beat rivals out of the pits. Those days, Comstock said, are probably done. “I think we’re back” to four-tire pit stops all the time, he said. “I think the track has enough wear on it now that were back to four tires every chance you get,” he said.