Gordon makes most of Chase chance
Jeff Gordon admits that he’s not wild about getting into the Chase for the Sprint Cup thanks to a special ruling by NASCAR that added him as a 13th driver in what was to have been a 12-driver field.
The sanctioning body did it in the fallout stemming from Michael Waltrip Racing trying to manipulate the outcome of the cutoff race in Richmond to get one of its drivers, Martin Truex Jr., in as one of two wild-card drivers on victories. The maneuvering cost Gordon enough positions that he just missed being the last of 10 drivers to make it on points.
Gordon would have rather made it solidly on his own.
“I don’t like how we got in, being added as the 13th team,” Gordon said after winning the Goody’s 500 on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. “You can dispute that all you want, but we weren’t going to say we’re not going to take it. We feel like we were in position to earn our way into it, and I think this team would have performed like this whether we were in it or not.”
Performing like this means posting five top-five finishes in the seven Chase events so far, capped by his late charge to victory Sunday, and sitting third in points, 27 behind co-leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson and one ahead of fourth-place Kevin Harvick.
The string of solid performances makes Gordon’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, believe that Gordon belongs in the playoff.
“If we don’t belong here, then beat us,” Gustafson said. “If we didn’t belong, we would be running good and we’d be 13th (in Chase standings). I think we’ve proved we’re a third-place team (in the standings). ... I think the proof is in the pudding. Your finishes and your results ultimately determine how good you are or aren’t.”
Gordon wasn’t happy with how good he was after struggling to a 10th-place finish in July at New Hampshire, an outcome that prompted a serious conversation with Gustafson.
“We had a heart-to-heart, and I’m proud of Alan stepping up,” Gordon said. ”Because with the bad attitude I had, we weren’t going to make the Chase. To me that turned things around.”
In the 14 races since then, Gordon has posted 10 finishes in the top 10.
“We kind of hit the reset button where we said being negative is not going to do us any good,” Gustafson said.
Leading 78 laps, including the last 21 after charging past Kenseth for the final time, Gordon was typically strong at Martinsville, where he has remained a victory threat throughout a career now in its 21st full-time season at NASCAR’s top level.
“It’s changed the least of any track we go to, so it has allowed me to do the same thing that I did 15 years ago when I started winning races,” Gordon said.
The victory had Gustafson talking about the possibilities of overtaking Johnson and Kenseth, even though Gordon must make up a total of 27 positions on both in the three remaining races and Sunday’s victory was his first of the year,
“If we go win these (next two) races, it’s not like they have to finish 20th,” Gustafson said. “They finish 10th, and then we’re going to have a show (in the finale) at Homestead. That’s what we’ve got to focus on doing.”
Gordon was more realistic, even though he is well within the maximum 48 points that can be won in one race. Kenseth said he considers anyone within that amount to still have a chance, also putting Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch among those he still considers threats.
“Let’s be honest,” Gordon said. “We’re still alive, but there’s really only two (Johnson and Kenseth) who are really in it. Our job is go to Texas this week and make it three. We’ve got to put pressure on those guys and, other than this win, they aren’t feeling any pressure. They’re racing one another is the way I look at it, and those guys are capable of putting very solid finishes together for the rest of the season.”