News & Media


Gordon's positive outlook helps 24 team see hope

June 08, 2012, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

Jeff Gordon was one of three drivers to top 179 mph in final practice at Pocono. (Getty Images)

LONG POND, Pa. -- Sometimes, Jeff Gordon wishes he had savored the victories a little more.

Good times or bad, the four-time champion maintains a level disposition that helps his emotions from veering too wildly out of control. Sometimes that prevents him from enjoying the high points as much as he might like to. But it also sometimes keeps him from getting too distraught over the low points -- like this season, when Gordon's No. 24 car has consistently been one of the fastest vehicles on the race track, but has little to show for it thanks to a litany of misfortune that has him buried deep in the standings.

"If we can get those wins, we'll make it."

--JEFF GORDON

"It's good and bad," he said Friday at Pocono Raceway. "It's just my personality. It's just the way I am."

And it's all served as a source of inspiration for his race team, which is beginning to think it can climb out of its points hole partly because Gordon believes it can be done. For a program that won three times last season and expected so much more this year, it's been a brutal experience -- accidents, part failures, pit-road mistakes, fluky things like a tire being cut down by a teammate's exhaust pipe, all of it combining to leave them 21st in the standings. But there was a top-10 at Charlotte. There was a dominant car at Dover before a wheel was left loose on a pit stop. And there's the guy behind the wheel, who hasn't let the problems drag him down too far, and who has never lost faith.

* Track Smack: Gordon could make wild card interesting

It's not quite morning again in the No. 24 camp. But it's not quite darkest night, either.

"Jeff is incredible at staying focused on what we need to focus on, and staying positive," crew chief Alan Gustafson said. "So that helps me a lot, to not second-guess myself or the team. I try to stay as even-keeled as I can ... but I'm human. So is everybody else. I know everybody puts in this effort, and how good this team is, and to have problem after problem ... it's sometimes hard to slough that off. But at the end of the day, I think you have to. You learn from it and go on. Feeling sorry for yourself is not very productive. I think everyone's done a really a really good job of that. I think Jeff deserves the most credit for that. I think we can dig out of this, I think we will dig out of this, and when we do, I think he's the guy who deserves the accolades."

There's a nugget of renewed confidence in there, thanks in part to some solid recent runs, thanks in part to Gustafson feeling like his program's car development is heading back in the right direction, thanks in part to Gordon emphasizing that his team not dwell on setbacks, but learn from them and move on. Yes, the Chase is still a very long way away -- outside the top 20 in points, Gordon isn't even eligible -- and the demons haven't all been quite exorcised, as evidenced by the loose wheel at Dover that forced a contending car to fall a lap down. But it's also not Darlington, easily the lowest point, when two cut tires left Gordon an also-ran on the night Hendrick Motorsports won its 200th race and Gustafson wondered if the problems would ever end.

"Darlington was like, wow. It's always darkest before the dawn, but when's the dawn coming?" Gustafson said Friday at Pocono.

"You feel like you can't tie your own shoes sometime," the crew chief added. "It's natural to say -- am I this stupid? Am I generating all these things? But I feel good about it. I feel we can make it out, and I feel we've got a really good race team."

These days, dispositions on the No. 24 team are just a touch sunnier. Some of that goes back to Gordon, who in the midst of this miserable stretch has tried to find the bright spots, emphasize the positive, and lead by example. He says everyone on the team -- including himself -- has made mistakes and needs to learn from them and move on. The tracks coming up are good ones for him. The cars have been fast, including the one he drove last week at Dover, despite the pit-road problem and the eventual 13th-place finish.

"There were certainly moments last Sunday when I was thinking we had a chance at winning that race, and we had what it took," Gordon said. "At that moment, you put aside the bad things that have happened and you just say, 'OK, start over. Here we are. We've got a car. We can do it.' You just focus on doing your job. At the end of the day when it's a heartbreaker like that, you're bummed out for a few days, and then you just go back to work on focusing on the next race. So that's what we do."

Gordon's chances


Predictions are updated thru the week, so check back often to see where Jeff Gordon and other drivers stand.

It helps that the performance has been there. "It's not like we're running 15th all day and then having problems. We're competing, I think, with anybody on the race track as far as speed goes," Gustafson said. Only teammate Jimmie Johnson and Sprint Cup points leader Greg Biffle have led more laps. A season-best, seventh-place finish in the 600-miler at Charlotte seemed to be the turning point, the moment when trace amounts of belief and confidence began to seep back in. The car at Pocono, where Gordon won last June, is a fast one, just like so many others have been.

"I think we're on the way up," Gustafson said.

"I told the guys this -- look, if we make it though, we're going to be better for it," he added. "We're going to be way a lot stronger as a team. There is a silver lining in it, if we can mount a comeback and get ourselves in, which I know we can do. At the end of the day, we have to feel like we can accomplish anything as a team, because that's going to be a task not a lot of teams can do."

Nearing his 40th birthday and having recently shed a 66-race winless skid, Gordon was in a reflective mood after his triumph last season in Pocono, speaking about how being down in the valley helped him appreciate the peaks of his career that much more. That's also the case today, as he tries to trudge up the hill once again. Then as now, the experience will add to the sweetness of what seems an inevitable breakthrough -- for as long as he will allow himself to celebrate it, at least.

* By the Numbers: Gordon closing in on Pocono milestone

"The last win that you have is always the one that carries you to the next one, and you hope that you can get there, because you never know when that next one may or may not come," Gordon said. "But when you've experienced victory as much as I have, you know it's such a sweet feeling. It's such a great accomplishment, and as it's gotten less and less over the years, it's meant even that much more, and you realize just how hard it is to accomplish. And then you throw in a year like we're having this year, and when that win comes for us, it's going to mean even that much more because of what we've been through."

• Engine problems at Daytona, Kansas and Talladega.
• Cut a tire at Bristol and Richmond.
• Pit-road penalty at Fontana.
• Leading on the G-W-C at Martinsville, wrecked on restart.
• Multiple blown tires at Darlington, first came while running eighth.
• Loose wheel at Dover while leading.
• In the four incident-free races he has typical Gordon numbers: eighth at Phoenix, 12th at Las Vegas, fourth at Texas, seventh at Charlotte.
• Chase chances: He is 21st in points, 94 out of 10th with no wins and three drivers in 11th-20th with wins, including Brad Keselowski with two.

And with a victory would come a renewed pursuit of the Chase. "If we can get those wins," Gordon said, "we'll make it." Spoken like a man who has never lost belief.