Jeff Gordon isn't concerned about Hendrick Motorsports' mediocre showing Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but he does have a concern about other competitors' lack of speed.
In the wake of Joey Logano being wrecked by the lapped car of Morgan Shepherd in the Camping World RV Sales 301, Gordon said NASCAR should consider raising the minimum speed at tracks such as New Hampshire.
The minimum speed at the 1.058-mile track was 115.88 mph, which was roughly 16 mph slower than the 131-mph pace of the fastest cars.
"I'm not comfortable with that," Gordon said. "I don't think they have any place out there if they're running that slow. I think it probably needs to be raised up at certain tracks where there's not a lot of falloff in the tire."
The four-time champion said the lack of a definitive replay made it difficult to analyze the Logano-Shepherd incident. Logano, who was running second when he crashed, questioned the qualifications of Shepherd, who was more than 10 laps down. The 72-year-old, who was making his second Sprint Cup start this season, has implied Logano pinched down too far with his No. 22 Ford, which caused Shepherd to lose control of his car.
"I don't know if (minimum speed) really contributed toward what happened with Morgan and Joey," Gordon said. "The video doesn't show everything.
"The tricky thing about minimum speed at a place like New Hampshire, you've got cars all around the track. You've got a car that maybe can meet minimum speed in clean air, but they're really never in clean air because they're constantly getting passed or trying to make some room for the lapped cars to go by, so how do we truly measure minimum speed? Because if you do it every lap they're getting passed by a faster car, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't make minimum speed, so I think NASCAR maybe sometimes looks at once they get into clean air, are they making minimum speed? A place like New Hampshire or Martinsville, they're never in clean air."
NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said Shepherd was above minimum speed throughout Sunday's race and was given no warnings. Shepherd turned a lap in the 121-mph range just before the contact with Logano.
NASCAR sets the minimum speed off the fastest lap time in the final practice. A lap must be at least 115% of that time.
Gordon was caught in a similar incident in a March 2004 race at Darlington, S.C. His No. 24 Chevrolet sustained a heavy impact with the lapped car of Andy Hillenburg, who had been spun by Tony Stewart while trying to keep pace.
"I know week in and week out, there are certain cars you're passing very often that you're questioning whether or not they're making minimum speed or if the minimum speed is really at the right pace," Gordon said.
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Gordon and his Hendrick teammates struggled to find pace at New Hampshire. Though positioned for a good finish before running out of gas under caution, Gordon (26th) struggled early in the race, and Jimmie Johnson finished 42nd after two tire failures in the first 11 laps.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10th) eked out the team's only top 10 finish, a spot ahead of Kasey Kahne (11th).
"We worked really hard all day to finish 10th," Earnhardt said. "Pretty disappointing; we will go home and work on it and try to do better. … This is an important racetrack, so we need to run better than this and I know we will work hard to figure that out."
The Hendrick results were surprising because the team used one of its four allotted tests at the track last month.
"Anytime you test the conditions are slightly different, and that was the case again in this instance," Gordon said. "That can sometimes cover up some things that you're really going to be working on when you come back for the race. That was one of the things that we dealt with all weekend long, just a little bit less grip, and I was just having some issues getting the car to cut the middle of the corner.
"I thought we resolved a lot of those in the race and our car was actually pretty good."
Brad Keselowski won at New Hampshire for his second win in three races for Team Penske, which has emerged as the primary title threat to Hendrick.
But with New Hampshire looming as the second track in the Chase, Gordon said the team will be able to build on the test.
"It wasn't overall the best day for Hendrick Motorsports in showing what we were really capable of," he said. "Obviously it was an excellent showing for (Keselowski), and they're strong right now. They've really got their cars working well. They've got their confidence up. They're going to be tough to beat.
"I think we always learn something when we test, and I don't think our results this past weekend really showed everything that we learned from that test. Between the test and the race, we should be able to go back there and be more competitive."
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