- David Newton, ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter
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CONCORD, N.C. -- The mustache is gone, but Jeff Gordon still is optimistic about his title chances that were thwarted by a stuck throttle in Sunday's Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway.
The throttle stuck and sent Gordon's No. 24 car into the wall on lap 188 after he ran in the top 5 most of the race. Gordon finished 35th, leaving him 47 points behind race winner Brad Keselowski.
The next day the four-time champion shaved the nostalgic mustache -- he donned a mustache when he entered the Sprint Cup series in the early 1990s -- he promised to grow if he made the Chase.
"My whole thing [on the mustache] was if things went well and we were making a charge and running up front and finishing up front, I would keep it as long as I could,'' Gordon said. "This weekend didn't go so well, so I changed my mind.''
Gordon said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that the throttle issue was the result of the way a bracket was mounted on the spring return designed especially for him with the new electronic fuel injection system implemented by NASCAR this season.
"It's something that I'm surprised didn't happen sooner to us, just the way our bracket was mounted,'' Gordon said as he introduced a Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle paint scheme he will use in the October race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in conjunction with his "Drive To End Hunger'' campaign. "It just broke.
"I don't know if it was due to vibration. Whatever caused it for this weekend to happen, it's our mistake. It's something that shouldn't have happened and it won't happen again.''
Gordon said engineers at Hendrick Motorsports are working to correct the issue for this weekend's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
"It didn't stick wide open,'' Gordon said. "It just stuck enough to where I carried enough speed to hit the wall. The impact wasn't that severe. For me, immediately I was, 'OK, now I know what went wrong. We've got to fix this, this and this, so if that problem ever happens again I'll still be able to get the throttle back.'
"We have a toe strap. It just didn't catch my toe enough, so we're redoing that as well. I could have pulled it back. Anytime these things happen you look at how you can prevent it in the future.''
Gordon said the throttle spring was unique to his car and not the other HMS cars.
"Even though some things are consistent, some things are unique to each driver and how they like that feel to be, how smooth it is, how strong those springs are,'' Gordon said.
Gordon said the mood of the team remains high despite the setback because the car was running strong at the time of the accident. He still believes there's a chance to get back into Chase contention based on how his team rallied to make the 10-race playoff.
Gordon was 42 points behind Kyle Busch 10 races before the regular-season finale. He finished three points ahead of Busch for the final wild-card spot.
"I wouldn't say we're going over the next nine weeks going, 'Oh man, we're the team to beat!''' Gordon said. "But we're not going to stop. We're not going to give up. We proved once this year on how we made it into the Chase.
"Nothing would be sweeter than to prove we can win a championship, even with this.''
The mustache is gone, but Jeff Gordon still is optimistic about his title chances that were thwarted by a stuck throttle in Sunday's Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway.