Gordon hopes to close in on Chase co-leaders
October 31, 2013, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
Gordon gathers his confidence and momentum heading into Texas
And if the intangible qualities of momentum are to be believed in, the four-time champion has more than a puncher's chance of catching co-leaders Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth to thicken the title hunt down the stretch, starting this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
"Well, of course we're in it. Until we're mathematically out of it, we're in it," Gordon said after notching his first victory of the season last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, a place he's won at eight times, but not since 2005 before Sunday's triumph.
"This was certainly a big moment, big day for us, and like I said, we tested at Texas. I'm excited about Texas. I think it's a great track for us, but it's pretty darned great for both those guys, as well. They performed very, very well again today. It's going to be tough to catch them."
Gordon made at least a dent with his Martinsville victory, rising from 35 points back in fifth place to a 27-point deficit in third. Still, he sees the potential for taking a bigger swipe at the gap in Sunday's AAA Texas 500 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN), the eighth of 10 races in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason.
"There's no better time to win races than right now, and to be able to carry that momentum ‑‑ I'm so proud to be third in the points," Gordon said. "We all want to win the championship, but I mean, from where we started early in the season, heck, where we started in this Chase, to be third in points right now, I'm very proud of that. We can't get the cart ahead of the horse; we've got to appreciate that but also take advantage of this momentum and confidence that we do have, and I can't wait to get to Texas."
Momentum and confidence? Not bad for a 42-year-old veteran who wasn't in the Chase from the get-go. Gordon was added to create a 13-driver field after the results of the regular-season finale were manipulated, originally leaving him as one of the odd men out at Richmond.
Whether the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team's postseason inclusion merits an asterisk has been the subject of debate, but Gordon has simply gone about the business of proving he belongs.
"I mean, I feel like we deserve to be in it," Gordon said. "I don't like how we got in it, being an added 13th team. You can dispute that all you want, but we're certainly not going to say no, we won't take it. We wanted to be in it. We feel like we were in a position to earn our way into it, and I think that this team would have performed like this whether we were in it or not."
Since then, Gordon has made the most of his second chance, posting top-10 finishes in five of the seven Chase races to move his way up the pecking order. Making extreme headway against the lead pair, however, has been no easy task; even as Gordon was taking the checkered flag Sunday, Kenseth was close behind in second place with Johnson not so far back in fifth.
Three more races like Sunday would not be enough for Gordon to overcome the deficit, but the team hopes to keep applying pressure to the leaders while employing its own no-pressure approach.
"I'm hoping to go to Texas and get a little bit closer and then we'll have this conversation again," said Alan Gustafson, Gordon's crew chief. "I think the closer we get, really ‑‑ I don't want to say that we're playing with house money, but of all the cars that are competing with it, I think we are. For us the best thing we can do is just go out there and try to win and get closer and closer and have a chance at Homestead. That really was my goal going into the Chase. (It's) still my goal now to go into Homestead with a shot."
That mission starts with Texas, a track that hasn't always been kind to Gordon with an average finish of 17.0 and six DNFs in 25 starts. But the lackluster results are balanced by a win in 2009, eight career top-five finishes and a three pole positions at the Fort Worth track.
Gordon will need more of the latter than the former come Sunday to keep the title race from becoming a two-car breakaway.
"Let's be honest. We're all alive, but right now there's two that are in it," Gordon said. "Our job is to go to Texas and make it three."