Jeff Gordon takes contrarian view on qualifying at Homestead

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 21: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Crispy Toyota, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

HOMESTEAD, FL – NOVEMBER 21: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Crispy Toyota, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon, both of whom qualified in the top five for Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC) expressed diametrically opposite views of the importance of time trials at the 1.5-mile track.

Busch, who will start third as he attempts to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title in his first visit to the Chase’s Championship Round, was pleased with his qualifying performance, though he doesn’t think starting position is particularly meaningful at the wide, multi-groove track.

“Qualifying position doesn’t matter much here,” Busch said after Friday’s time trials. “I think with the opportunity that this racetrack presents of being able to move around — bottom, middle, top, and be all over the race track — I think you definitely have enough time here through 400 miles to work your way to the front.

“It’s not a race track like last week at Phoenix or even Loudon or something like that where it’s pretty single file, hard to pass. This place is good. So I don’t know that qualifying position has anything to say about what kind of race we’ll see on Sunday.”

Gordon, however, feels that, when the track rubbers in and drivers start racing near the outside wall, the preferred groove will narrow.

“I disagree with Kyle,” said Gordon, who recovered from a lackluster opening lap in the first round of knockout qualifying to earn the fifth starting spot. “I think qualifying here is important. There’s nice multiple grooves, but I started on the pole here last year, and I know that that kept us in the game and up front in a big way.

“Of course, pit selection has a lot to do with that. But once the groove moves up top, it’s kind of hard to pass. Even though there are multiple grooves, you’ve got to do it in the first couple laps. I think that that would not have been good had we not gotten qualifying in (because of the threat of rain), but we did, and I’m happy about it.”

Gordon’s joy at his strong qualifying effort would pale in comparison with a fifth series championship — and first under a Chase format. It would also give Gordon the rare opportunity to retire at the pinnacle of the sport.

“I mean, that’s life changing,” Gordon said of the prospect. “It’s something that… I mean, I’m sure it’s been done in some sport, but I don’t think it’s ever been done in this sport. Right now, I’m not even thinking and fathoming that.

“I’m just really happy about how we qualified, so I’m hoping that we can take that fast race car and do some more with it (in Saturday’s practice) and Sunday, and we’ll see what happens. But that’s too much for me to think about… It would be the best one I ever did — I can tell you that.”

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