When Jeff Gordon announced 2015 would be his final season behind the wheel of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, many expected the veteran driver to win multiple races and contend for the title.
However, things have not gone as planned for the four-time champion. Wrecks, mechanical failures and mistakes both behind the wheel and on pit road have led to just three top-five finishes.
Heading into his final road-course event Sunday at Watkins Glen International, Gordon was hoping to score his 10th career road-course win and fifth at The Glen. Leading final practice and qualifying fifth, the outlook seemed bright for Gordon and the No. 24 team going into the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen.
Yet from the drop of the green flag, Gordon struggled with the handling of the car and urged crew chief Alan Gustafson to make wholesale changes. Pitting for the first time on Lap 23 from the eighth spot, the team took a big swing and adjusted the car with four rounds of wedge, but the problems were far from over.
When the first caution of the day flew on Lap 25, Gordon brought his car back to pit road for an extensive stop as the team diagnosed an issue with the brakes. An issue with the brake line was causing the car to lose brake fluid on the track, sending the team scrambling for repairs.
Sitting on pit road, Gordon lost four laps and fell to 43rd on the leaderboard as the team replaced the brake line under the car.
Gordon could do little to make up the four-lap deficit, but was able to take advantage of issues for teammate Kasey Kahne and Stewart-Haas Racing's Tony Stewart to ultimately jump two spots and finish 41st.
"It's disappointing, but right now I just feel like we can't afford to have these kinds of finishes if we're going to make the Chase," a disappointed Gordon said after the race. "Just when you think you get something that's going to go your way, then you get something like this happens. We're going to keep fighting and digging and try to get the finishes we need to get ourselves solidly in there."
By finishing 41st, Gordon dropped two spots in the series standings to 12th, without a win to secure his place in the 16-driver Chase field. While Gordon was able to finish third at Pocono last weekend, he also had a disappointing 42nd-place finish two weeks ago at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Despite two poor finishes in three weeks, Gordon said he believes the team has to improve but said "the performance is not bad."
"It's the unknown, it's the concerns of freak things happening like what happened to us at Indy and what happened to us here -- those are out of your control," he said. "We're all about the things you can control. From that standpoint, we are just trying to improve the performance of the car slightly. We're not far off, though."