Jim Cole, Associated Press
LOUDON, N.H. — Jeff Gordon battled with his alternator and blew a tire on the last lap.
He somehow finished 11th Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in perhaps his wildest race of the season.
"It was a pretty crazy day for us," Gordon said.
Gordon led 19 laps, fell as far back as 35th, then rallied to run up front with the leaders. If not for a bad alternator, Gordon might have won his 85th career Sprint Cup race. He had one of the fastest cars out there when the No. 24 Chevrolet was on full power. It was just keeping running perfectly that was a problem.
Gordon radioed, "We're done. I've got no power," early in the race and plummeted a lap down to 35th. He turned off his air conditioner and brake fans — which likely caused the blown tire — to conserve energy.
His battery was swapped multiple times on pit stops, making the 11th-place finish even more impressive. Gordon was fourth entering the final lap until the tire blew.
"My goodness the car was so good," Gordon said.
Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson would rather deal with these issues now than during the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Gordon has two wins and is seventh in the points, making him a near-lock to qualify for the 10-race Chase. The second Chase race is back in New Hampshire — and Gordon believes if they can work out the kinks, he can win.
"You have to survive these races in a lot of different ways," the four-time Cup champ said. "So it was a challenging day in a lot of ways. But it was certainly something. We're excited about coming back here later in the year to this race track. Our car was fast."
EARLY EXITS: Kyle Busch went from hitting the 100-win mark to hitting the wall.
One day after winning his 100th career NASCAR race, Busch blew a tire and slammed into the wall only 60 laps into the race. Busch's grip on the points lead evaporated and he dropped to fifth. He returned to the race 76 laps down. Busch completed 224 laps and finished 36th.
"Kind of knew things weren't going to go our way today," Busch said. "Woke up and everything went wrong that could go wrong. Pretty much seemed right."
Busch won the Nationwide Series race Saturday to join the 100-win club. Only Richard Petty and David Pearson have hit that milestone in NASCAR.
Brad Keselowski had similar problems when he wrecked with a blown tire. Keselowski finished 35th and his chance at qualifying for the Chase took a serious blow. He's in 23rd place, and is in bad need of a victory — or more.
"I was pushing a little too hard, but that's what you've got to do," Keselowski said. "You have to stay in front and try to save our day. It wasn't meant to be and ended up blowing a tire, probably from brake heat."
SUMMER SHOWDOWN: NASCAR title sponsor Sprint announced a $3 million prize as a potential payoff during a six-week race showdown.
Any driver who wins one of the five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events between Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway will become a finalist for the $3 million Sprint Summer Showdown payout on Labor Day Weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
If one of those five drivers wins at Atlanta, then the driver, the driver's charity and one race fan will each collect $1 million. For contest rules and additional information, visit sprint.com/speed.
PAGING GOLDEN TATE: Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate was ripped by NASCAR fans after a series of Twitter posts last week stating drivers weren't athletes. Jimmie Johnson, the victim of his first barb, found humor in the posts, but strongly disagreed this weekend with Tate's stance. Tate eventually backed down and apologized.
Are drivers athletes?
It's a question elite racers have always dealt with.
Winner Ryan Newman poked a little fun at his profession after more than three hours baking in his car. He said he welcomed the upcoming week off before the Brickyard 400 on July 31.
"Doing what we do, you'll take a week off any time you can get it," he said. "This is a demanding sport. I don't know that we're athletes, but this is a demanding sport."
PIT STOPS: Speedway Motorsports Inc. owner Bruton Smith and track general manager Jerry Gappens told fans at a Q&A they'd like to see a night race at New Hampshire. Gappens said "the wheels are in motion" for pursuing lights. Smith was asked about his favorite driver. He said "41 of the 43," while refusing to name them. Smith said he "just didn't like" two drivers in NASCAR. ... Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney mingled with the drivers before the race. "Let's take a picture together!" said excited driver Jamie McMurray. Romney also chatted with Brian Vickers. ... Clint Bowyer made his 200th career start.
Follow Dan Gelston on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APgelston
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