INDIANAPOLIS - Frustrating was the only way four-time defending champion Jeff Gordon could describe his day at the track Sunday during the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.
Gordon started and finished 16th, but not before battling his way back from four laps down early in the event. Gordon was forced to the pits on lap 9 for a 27.8-seconds stop to fix a left front flat tire and survey the damage of a broken sway bar.
That put Gordon two laps down and he fell another lap down when the crew fixed the sway bar under the first competition caution period eight laps later.
"When you get three laps down at this place, it's hard to ever come back," said Gordon. "We were just actually fortunate to get back on the lead lap."
Gordon was able to get back on the lead lap by the midpoint of the 160-lap race by being the recipient of the "lucky dog" pass, meaning he was the car the most laps down when the caution flag waved. Those drivers are allowed to gain a lap back.
"We had a great car," added Gordon. "We just didn't need those problems and we needed track position. That was a hard-fought 16th. It was frustrating to have a car like ours and not be able to race up front for the lead and for those top positions."
Gordon's finish allowed him to move up one spot to eighth in the season-ending NASCAR Nextel Cup Race for the Chase.
"Obviously, these next thee weeks are going to be crucial for us," he said. "I can't be too disappointed. We could have been a heck of a lot worse than 16th."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was another driver who was fortunate to move up in the points from 11th to 10th.
Earnhardt was running mid-pack when the caution flag came out with 17 laps remaining for debris on the track. Rather than pit, like all the leaders, Earnhardt's crew kept him on the track and he was in second place when the green flag waved 13 laps from the finish.
He managed to hang on for a sixth-place finish despite running against the leaders, all of whom took on four new tires during their pit stops.
"I just had old tires trying to hold my position the best I could," said Earnhardt. "I wasn't a factor to win. I'd love having a better car and not having to make that call (to stay out). We can't make the Chase with 30-place race cars. We took a chance and made it work and just got lucky."
Defending champion Tony Stewart came home eighth after starting 32nd to move from 10th to ninth in points.
"I think I passed 60 cars or more, so we're pretty happy with it," said Stewart. "We had an air gun break (on a pit stop). Rather than take a chance, we came in to make sure the lugs were tight. We went back and battled our way back into the top 10."
Kasey Kahne took the biggest hit among the points leaders when he crashed on the last lap. He dropped from seventh to 11th in the standings.
"I was trying to get in a battle with all those guys for positions sixth, seventh and eighth," said Kahne, who was running ninth and finished 36th. "Trying to pass Stewart, I got loose. I was trying to stay off Tony and I guess I ran into the wall."
Nuts and bolts
w Next year's race at Indianapolis will be held a week earlier on July 29. It will be the first of 17 races aired by ESPN and the first time the race will be televised on cable instead of a broadcast network.
w Sunday's race marked the first time since November, 1975 that a member of the Waltrip family was not in the starting lineup for a NASCAR race.
Darrell Waltrip retired after the 2000 season and Michael Waltrip failed to qualify for Sunday's race. It snapped a string of 270 consecutive starts for Michael Waltrip, which began in 1998. Mark Martin now has the longest string of starts at 602.
w J.J. Yeley became the 10th driver Sunday to start both the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400. The others were John Andretti, Geoff Brabham, A.J. Foyt, Larry Foyt, Robby Gordon, Jason Leffler, Scott Pruett, Stewart and Danny Sullivan.
Yeley was among five drivers to make their first start in the Allstate 400. The others were Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., and Dave Stremme.
w Bill Elliott finished 22nd on the lead lap, again completing 160 laps. He has now completed 2,080 of a possible 2,081 laps of Brickyard competition to lead all drivers. Elliott and Jeff Burton remained tied for most times running at the finish at 13.
w This year's race had the most drivers (35) finish on the lead lap. The previous best was 31 last year.