It seems that Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet for Hendrick Motor Sports, is saving up his cigars for the upcoming birth of his baby boy instead of for a celebration in victory lane.
For the second time in as many races, Gordon came up just short of the win, this time in the bridesmaid spot to Ryan Newman in the Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday evening.
Gordon blamed himself squarely for letting this one get away from him and his team.
"I'm frustrated because I spun the tires on the restart," Gordon said in his post race interview."I felt like we really had ourselves in the right position to win the race and I'm so frustrated right now with that."
Gordon can add this "close but no cigar" moment to similar ones at both Martinsville and Las Vegas. In spite of leading many laps in both of those races, Gordon came up third when the checkered flag flew at both venues.
Yet Gordon remained upbeat, focusing not on the lack of victory but instead on the continued improvement of his race team.
"I feel like our race team has really improved this year," Gordon said. "I like how we get stronger as the race goes on. That's something that we haven't had for awhile."
Gordon was also pleased with this continuing progression upwards in the points standings, moving up to the fifth position. "We're up in the points and we're knocking on the door for wins," Gordon said. "You can't ask for a whole lot more than that."
Gordon also credited crew chief Steve Letarte with the two-tire call for the final pit stop of the race that put Gordon right in the winning mix, along with Newman. "Steve's made great calls in the pits," Gordon said. "He's gutsy."
"When Steve called two tires, I thought that was - I thought that sounded good to me," Gordon said. "When we came out first I thought it sounded even better."
"Steve's not afraid to take chances," Gordon continued of his crew chief. "His calls have paid off for us, I'd say, more often than not."
Gordon was pleased with the increased length of the race as well. "I guess I'm glad that it was a longer race," Gordon said. "That definitely paid off for us."
Although Gordon reaped the benefits of the longer race, he felt that the change from the wing to the spoiler was a non-issue, even at the longer track in Phoenix.
"I didn't really notice a big difference," Gordon said of the change to the spoiler. "I think it looks better and the fans seem to want it and like it. I think it's a win-win for everybody."
Even though Gordon was not breaking out the cigars for a victory, he was most pleased to see Newman take the checkered flag. "It's been a long time since he's won," Gordon said of Newman.
"And I know it meant a lot to him and that team," Gordon continued. "We have a relationship with Stewart-Haas Racing so it's good to see those guys win."
There is one area, however, where Gordon could break out the cigars. He is on the top of the leader board in owner points, thanks to his teammate and third place Phoenix finisher Jimmie Johnson.
Yet, leading in the owner's points is not where Gordon or his team would ideally like to be. All members of the HMS No. 24 team would also like to experience the sweet smell of success with a race win.
"With the last couple of races, I felt like those were ours to lose and we lost it and that was frustrating," Gordon said. "But I certainly feel like the fight is there in the whole team."
"We're fired up about this season and I feel like we're only going to get better," Gordon said. "That's what I'm excited about right now."
Gordon may want to stash just a few cigars in his carry-on bag as he heads into the next race. He and his team will head next into Texas Motor Speedway, the site of Gordon's last Sprint Cup race win.