NBC Sports - MotorSportsTalk
JOLIET, Ill. – In the first race of the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Jeff Gordon took the first step in his “Drive For Five” – and put his best foot forward.
Gordon, who has been seeking his fifth Sprint Cup championship for the last 13 seasons, started the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a strong statement, finishing second to race winner Brad Keselowski.
“We had a pretty solid day,” Gordon said. “We started eighth, were able to drive up into the top two or three fairly early in the race. I knew we had a solid car. … That’s the way you want to get this thing started.”
Gordon leaves Chicagoland just seven points behind Keselowski, who remains the No. 1 seed with now nine races remaining in the Chase.
While he was chasing Keselowski in the closing laps, Gordon also engaged in an outstanding battle for second place with rookie driver Kyle Larson, who had been battling Kevin Harvick for the lead several laps earlier.
“Oh my gosh, I was having a pretty good time watching (Larson) and Kevin (Harvick) go at it in front of me,” Gordon said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I thought for sure there was going to be a wreck.
“But that’s just two guys that are wheeling it. I’m really proud of Kyle Larson. Man, what a great effort, such a young talent. I really wanted to see him win that race because I like him, but I didn’t want to see those other guys win it either.”
Gordon made a very classy move immediately after the race. As soon as he emerged from his race car, he walked over to Logano to congratulate him and also offer words of encouragement to comfort the disappointment Larson was feeling for coming up short yet again of his first career Sprint Cup win.
“I just told him how proud I am of him,” Gordon said. “I think this kid is the real deal. He’s going to be a star in this series for a long time. I really wanted to see him win because I like him and I know he’s going to win a lot of races, but I also didn’t want to see those other guys win.
“I’m a big fan. I like seeing young guys out there driving like that. That’s so much fun. That’s what this sport is all about. I just wanted to let him know what a great job I thought he did.”
Larson indeed felt consolation from Gordon’s words.
“It means a lot,” Larson said. “He was just giving me some advice and said he was pretty proud of me. I’m sure there are some things I could have done differently on that restart, like he was telling me; and I’ll definitely know for next time.
"It’s nice whenever Jeff comes around or I read all the stuff he says about me."
“It’s really cool that guys I’ve looked up to since forever are now talking about me and I’m racing them and battling for wins.”
But showing the competitor he is, Larson couldn’t help second-guess himself about what happened in the closing laps, even with Gordon’s words of wisdom.
“Man, I was so close,” Larson said. “I didn’t need that caution (the last caution, involving Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) there.
“I was just cruising out front and then we got that yellow and I had to battle (Kevin) Harvick really hard then. That allowed Brad (Keselowski) to get by both of us. It really ended our shot at a win there.
“It stinks we got third. Coming up close as often as I have this year is going to make that first win feel that much more special.”
Near the end of their joint post-race interview in the Chicagoland Speedway media center, Larson paid a compliment to Gordon that, well, kind of came out the wrong way.
Still, Gordon took it good-naturedly.
“It’s just really, really cool (to have fellow drivers like Gordon compliment him),” Larson said. “Guys you look up to since, heck, Jeff has been racing the Cup Series as long as I’ve been alive.”
That brought both a smile and a quip in reply from Gordon, who is 43 years old to Larson’s 21 years.
“I needed to hear that,” Gordon said.
Follow me @JerryBonkowski