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For Gordon, it's feeling a little like 2007 again

September 12, 2011, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com



For Gordon, it's feeling a little like 2007 again
RICHMOND, Va. -- Driver finally back in position to make good on promise of a fifth championship

For Jeff Gordon, 2007 was the championship that got away.

Six victories. Twenty-one top-five finishes. Leading the standings for 27 weeks. The most dominant campaign the four-time NASCAR champion has enjoyed since his glory days of the late 1990s, when the No. 24 car seemed as unstoppable as the tide.

"But the way that this team has performed this year, you know, there's not one track in these next 10 weeks that scares me."

--JEFF GORDON

He couldn't hold on, though, running well but not well enough over that year's final three races, and eventually finishing as the runner-up in what became Jimmie Johnson's second consecutive championship campaign. But that year stands as the high-water mark of Gordon's late-career renaissance, as complete a full-season effort as he's had -- until perhaps now.

Gordon didn't win Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, but his third-place finish continued a torrid run of nine top-fives in his past 11 starts, and makes it feel a little like 2007 again as the Sprint Cup field opens the Chase this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. Gordon won't go into the playoff leading the standings, but he's close enough, and with three wins and a head of steam behind him, he feels like he's primed for a run at long-awaited championship No. 5.

"You know, I feel like we've got more momentum going into the Chase," Gordon said. "I feel like our team is really, really strong. I feel like in '07, while we gave Jimmie a great run and a great battle, I still feel like they had the momentum. And were outrunning us just by a little bit on a regular basis. We're competing with everybody out there right now, and lately I feel like we've been better than most on a lot of different types of race tracks -- short tracks, superspeedways, intermediates. We've got an awesome race team right now. I'm extremely excited."

With good reason, given his performance over the past three months. In the end, the 2007 campaign was a heartbreaker -- Gordon hung with Johnson until the final two weeks, falling short despite winning twice and finishing outside the top 10 just once over the course of the 10-week playoff. No one knows how this year will end. But Gordon feels like he'll have a voice in the outcome.

"I'm not taking for granted where we're at, the way we've run," he said. "We've had to work really, really hard to make the improvements that we've made in our cars and in our team this year, and we know we're going to have to work equally as hard to maintain that and step up when the Chase starts. But the way that this team has performed this year, you know, there's not one track in these next 10 weeks that scares me, because I think that we just really have done a great job dissecting down our issues and addressing them and making our cars better as we go to those tracks."

Gordon doesn't lead the Sprint Cup tour in wins -- his three victories stand one behind the four each tallied by Kyle Busch and Saturday night's winner, Kevin Harvick -- and he'll start the Chase in third place, three points behind co-leaders Busch and Harvick. But those statistics don't necessarily convey how strong Gordon's program has been, particularly the past few weeks.

"I haven't felt like this in a long time, to be honest. Even in '07 when we battled for the championship with Jimmie and we were close going into the Chase, I didn't feel this confident and felt like we had this kind of momentum. We got into the Chase and actually won a couple of races and took the lead and thought we were looking pretty good, and old Five-Time put it on us," Gordon said.

"I love the position that we are in as a team. Kyle has won four [races], but I don't feel like in the last 10 races that anybody has shown more strength than we have, and certainly the last couple with leading the most laps at Bristol, leading the most laps last week in Atlanta, and getting the victory. This team is definitely full of confidence and has momentum on our side, but we're also very real in knowing how tough things are going to be in the Chase. We've got to step up our game and we know there are a few tracks we have to improve at, and if we can do that we have a great shot at this thing this year."