tee-bones Andy Hillenburg at Darlington
If it wasn’t
for the fact that his teammate Jimmie Johnson won the race, Sunday’s
Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 NASCAR Nextel Cup race at
Darlington Raceway might very well have been a race Jeff Gordon
would have preferred to forget.
While Johnson's #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet Monte Carlo car was doing
burnouts on the frontstretch, Jeff Gordon’s #24 DuPont Chevy
was being hauled back to the team’s shop in Concord minus
most of the front end, the result of a punishing crash
involving Gordon and Andy Hillenburg on lap 29 of the
Hillenburg, running far slower than the leaders, was already
a lap down when Tony Stewart got into the back of him in
turn two, sending Hillenburg’s #80 Ford spinning across the
Elliott Sadler, running just ahead of Gordon, committed to
the low side. With nowhere to go, and his view obscured by
smoke, Gordon plowed into Hillenburg’s stopped race car.
Both cars were damaged beyond repair, but fortunately, both
drivers were uninjured.
“I’ll be sore tomorrow,” Gordon said after the crash on
Sunday. “I haven’t taken a hit like that possibly ever. The
HANS device did its job, thankfully.
“I don’t know what happened there with Andy (Hillenburg)
getting spun, but I’ll tell you what, there are a bunch of
cars out there that do not belong out there. They’re way off
the pace. They’re in the way.”
Gordon’s crash brought to light yet again the subject of
Since the Daytona 500, barely enough cars have shown up at
the last four Nextel Cup events to produce a full field,
which has allowed several smaller, part-time teams the
chance to participate in a race that they might otherwise
not have been fast enough to qualify for.
As a result, each of the last four events has had at least
five cars entered that could barely make minimum speed –
field fillers, or rolling roadblocks.
Whatever you want to call them, Gordon says they don’t need
to be out on the track with the big boys.
“This is the Nextel Cup Series. This is the best of the
best,” Gordon said. “We don’t need to have cars that are
just out there making a qualifying attempt and making the
“I don’t know if (the crash) was Andy’s fault, but I know
there are other cars out there that are definitely not up to
the speed that they need to be in this series.”
NASCAR, for its part, has not tried to discourage the teams
from entering races, but they have parked some cars in the
last few events for not making minimum speed. NASCAR
officials said following the race that Hillenburg was faster
than the minimum speed.
Gordon says NASCAR needs to do more, but so far no changes
regarding “field fillers” have been announced.
“We talk (to NASCAR) about it all the time,” Gordon said.
“They’ve tried to address it with a minimum speed. Maybe the
minimum speed needs to be adjusted.
“I don’t care if there are 43 cars. I don’t know if the
people in the stands really care if there are 43 cars. We
need cars out there that are competitive and that need to be
out there competing for position, not just riding around.”
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