AVONDALE, Ariz.- One year ago, the breaks went Jeff Gordon’s way as the Drive to End Hunger team recovered from an early race accident to win at Phoenix International Raceway.
One race ago here, however, it was a much different story as brake issues on the newly repaved, newly reconfigured track led to a 32nd-place finish in the penultimate race of the 2011 season.
“Obviously, I like the old configuration better right now,” the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion said. “But we have to adapt to it.
“One of the things we worked heavily on during the offseason was preparing for this race to make sure we don’t have the same issues we experienced in November.”
Crew chief Alan Gustafson expects a much-improved performance by the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event.
“We had brake issues here in November, but I feel confident we’ve identified the issue and addressed it so that won’t occur again,” Gustafson said. “We weren’t as strong as we wanted to be all weekend, but I have a lot of confidence in this team. I believe we will be much better this trip.“We’ve seen the error of our ways, so to speak. We’re coming back with a different package that should be very competitive.”
While the track reconfiguration led to some setbacks for the No. 24 team, it also led to some very different and unusual lines used by the drivers on the backstretch at the Phoenix track.
“If you run side-by-side through there, the car can get really loose,” said Gordon, who finished 40th in the Daytona 500 on Sunday due to engine issues in the No. 24 Impala. “Running on the apron wasn’t just a way to get an edge, but it was also an opportunity to get away from the car on your outside.”
In 26 starts at the one-mile track, Gordon has two wins (2007 and 2011), three pole positions, 10 top-five finishes, 18 top-10s - and one forgettable race here three months ago.
“We lost some laps early because of the brake issue, but we started to get better as the race went on (in November),” said the winner of 85 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. “I’m more confident going into this weekend than I was then.
“I feel like we have good data from our teammates. (New Hendrick Motorsports teammate) Kasey (Kahne) and (crew chief) Kenny Francis did very well - obviously - since they won the race.
“I feel pretty good about this return trip.”
A return trip that could possibly include a return trip to Victory Lane for the No. 24 team.