AVONDALE, Ariz. (Feb. 22, 2011) – After a disappointing finish in the season-opening Daytona 500, Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 team are already thinking about changes entering this weekend’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR). Gordon started second at Daytona but was collected in a Lap 29 multi-car accident at the 2.5-mile track.
Lengthy repair work to the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet was required and Gordon returned to the track 30 laps down. But seven valuable positions -- and seven valuable championship points -- were gained before the race ended. But while Speedweeks gave the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion an opportunity to gel with new crew chief Alan Gustafson and new Hendrick Motorsports team, more changes await this weekend.
The Phoenix race date has moved from April into the second slot of the season, and qualifying -- which normally occurred on Friday here -- now will take place Saturday afternoon. The qualifying order has changed, too, from a random draw to practice speeds -- slowest to fastest.
“Alan and the entire No. 24 crew did a great job during Speedweeks,” Gordon said. “We had a fast car and were able to sit on the front row for the ‘500.’
“Then, after the wreck in the Duel, they did a great job repairing the car so we could keep our starting spot for the race. The car was fast in the race, we just got caught up in an early wreck. They did an amazing job of getting that car back on the track Sunday, and that type of determination and teamwork is why I’m looking forward to racing with this group at Phoenix and the rest of the 2011 season.”
In 24 starts at PIR, the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has one win (2007), three pole positions, nine top-five finishes and 17 top-10s -- but none of those occurred in February.
“There will be some new things that we will need to adjust to this weekend,” Gordon said. “In the past, the sun can be difficult to deal with while driving into Turn 1. Friday’s practice session will give us an opportunity to see what kind of challenge that gives us in February.
“And those practice sessions now determine our qualifying order. This should make qualifying very interesting with the fast drivers going out later and later. We could see the top spot changing after each run.
“Qualifying well here seems to help on race day. It’s not like Daytona where you can go from 10th to the lead in one lap. Sometimes it can take several laps just to gain one position. And the fewer positions needed to gain to get to the front, the better."