Wild Card Watch: Which way, Jeff Gordon?
July 18, 2013, George Winkler, NASCAR.com
Jeff Gordon was born in Vallejo, Calif., but his home is listed as Pittsboro, Ind. And yet if you asked race fans from the Hoosier State, they’d probably be glad to claim the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion as their own.
And since it’s always good to be back home in Indiana, it should be no surprise to see that the record books at the Brickyard are dotted with entries devoted to the No. 24. In 19 career Sprint Cup starts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Gordon has 15 top-10s, 11 top-fives and four victories, the last win coming in 2004.
But it’s not all “ancient” history. Looking at the Loop Data over the past eight seasons shows some impressive stats. Gordon leads all racers at Indianapolis in quality passes, fastest speed late in runs and closing ability, and his Driver Rating of 101.8 ranks fourth in this span behind only Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Mark Martin.
Pretty impressive stuff, so a return to Indy on July 28 for the Crown Royal presents the Samuel Deeds 400 powered by BigMachineRecords.com (1 p.m. ET, ESPN) comes at a perfect time for Gordon, who is in a precarious spot in the Wild Card race.
Gordon is tied for 11th place with Martin Truex Jr. with 521 points but loses out to Truex for one Wild Card spot because of the No. 56’s victory at Sonoma. Gordon also is actually behind Stewart, who is in 13th place with 518 points but has a victory at Dover that would give him the final Wild Card spot.
So which way is it going to be, Jeff? Are you going to establish yourself as a true contender or fade down the stretch?
With seven top-10 finishes, four top-fives and no wins, this is not shaping up to be one of Gordon’s stronger seasons. At this rate it could be his worst since 1993, his first full Cup season when he had 11 top-10s, seven top-fives, no wins and one Coors Light Pole. That started a string of 20 straight seasons with a pole win that is also in jeopardy this year.
But there’s always Indiana, and a win there would get Gordon right back in it. His average finish of 8.8 at Indiana is only bettered by his stats at Martinsville and Sonoma on tracks where he has had a significant amount of starts. So a lot will be riding on Gordon when he suits up in the next Cup race.
Ready to pounce: Jeff Burton made it clear after finishing third in New Hampshire that he doesn’t want to be forgotten when it comes to this year’s race for the Chase. Supporting his point is the fact that besides Brad Keselowski, Burton was the biggest mover last week, jumping up four spots to No. 17 in the Sprint Cup standings. It marks his highest ranking since he was No. 15 after Phoenix.
But how likely is it for the 46-year-old Richard Childress Racing driver to remain a factor? He is 20 points behind Stewart with seven races to go before the Chase, and his record isn’t strong at upcoming tracks in Indianapolis, Michigan or Watkins Glen. In a combined 77 Sprint Cup Series starts at those tracks, Burton has 20 top-10s and seven top-fives.
Also in this span is a trip to Pocono, where Burton has fared better, but still has just 17 top-10s in 39 starts. Burton’s Driver Rating of 86.5 in the last eight years at Pocono places him 15th among active drivers. So as one can see Burton is but a true dark horse. We enjoy the veteran’s moxie but his is but one story in a tightly packed group from spots No. 9 to No. 20 in the standings.
In danger of falling out: Three weeks ago Joey Logano was enjoying a run of five top-10 finishes in six races, with his worst showing being 11th place at Sonoma. He was in 10th place in the standings and seemingly well on his way to his first Chase. But the good times ended abruptly with consecutive 40th-place finishes at Daytona and Loudon, both because of tire problems. Now Logano sits 18th with 487 points, 31 points behind Stewart.
Here’s the thing, the road doesn’t get any easier for the No. 22. In 26 combined races at the next four stops on the Sprint Cup Series circuit (Indianapolis, Pocono, Watkins Glen and Michigan) Logano has just eight top-10s and two top-fives. Four of those top-10s have come at Michigan. He almost has to knock the ball out of the park in Michigan and hope he can reverse the trends at one of the other tracks.
Plus, he needs to pick up his first win of the season in order to compete with Stewart and Truex Jr., who both have a win this year. Well, at least Joey’s upcoming appearance on Disney XD’s "Lab Rats" can cheer up his fans (Monday, 9 p.m. ET).