After a frightening crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2008, could Jeff Gordon be hesitant to return to the 1.5-mile superspeedway for Sunday's Shelby 427?


"I can't wait to get to Las Vegas," the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion said.
Late in last year's event, Gordon was running fourth on a restart when he lost control of his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet exiting turn 2. He slid into the inside retaining wall and made hard contact in an area that had no SAFER barrier. Although it was a scary accident, the safety features in his car saved him from serious injury.

"I heard the track installed a SAFER barrier there," said Gordon, who has one victory and five top-fives in 11 starts at the Las Vegas track. "To be honest, I never noticed that area of the track before last year. The first time I noticed it was when I was about to slam into it.

"But I'm not so concerned about it going back. Between NASCAR, which mandates that our cars be safe and that we wear head and neck restraining devices, Hendrick Motorsports building fast and safe cars, and my sponsor DuPont which produces materials such as Kevlar which is in my helmet and in the nose of my car to my Nomex driving suit, I feel completely safe in the car. "I'm sure at some point during the weekend I'll glance over at the new wall when I'm driving down the backstretch to see what they've done. But I'm sure I'll see enough of it watching practice and qualifying on television."

It is not the improvement made to the wall that has him upbeat ahead of this weekend's race, but the improvements to his cars during the off-season. During Speedweeks at Daytona, Gordon won a Gatorade Duel qualifying race. In the Daytona 500, Gordon led laps and had a strong car but finished 13th after battling back from a lap down in the rain-shortened event. Last Sunday, Gordon led 64 laps before finishing second to Matt Kenseth. The finish moved Gordon up 10 positions to second place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings and added a spring in his step before the 427-mile Las Vegas event.

"We ran well here last year, so we have a good baseline," Gordon explained. "But we've learned so much since then that we'll head back - I don't want to say with a drastic setup - but with a much different setup. It's a similar setup to what we ran in California over the weekend, and we had a strong car there.  It's good to have a baseline setup to fall back on, if needed."

But crew chief Steve Letarte hopes what worked at California works in Las Vegas.

"A good baseline seemed to help with the ‘old' car," said Letarte, referring to the car used before the introduction of the Car of Tomorrow (CoT) at intermediate tracks in 2008. We had 20 years of notes, so changes from race-to-race weren't huge. But we only have one season on these types of tracks with the Impala, so we're still building our notebooks. Last year, we finished third at California in February. If we unloaded that same setup in August at California, we would have been below average. With so little race experience with the CoT, the learning ‘slope' is steep right now." 

Courtesy: Jon Edwards, Performance PR Plus