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Gordon making strides in Chase after crashing out of opener

September 30, 2012, Holly Cain, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

Jeff Gordon wasn't in front of the No. 2 when it counted, but he still came up with a runner-up finish at Dover. (Getty Images)

No. 24 driver making big strides in Chase race after crashing out of opener

DOVER, Del. -- Don't look now, but this season's most dramatic Chase for the Sprint Cup qualifier, wild card Jeff Gordon, is launching a charge up the championship standings.

A runner-up finish to Brad Keselowski on Sunday at Dover International Speedway answers a third place showing the week before. Gordon is ranked 10th, just two weeks after being buried in last place among the Chasers.

"We're not going to [catch] those guys up front if they keep running the way they're running. The only way we're going to get a chance at them is if they have a problem ... "

--JEFF GORDON

"This is a nice follow up with what we had last week,'' an effusive Gordon said after Sunday's race. "We're running good. And we were running good at Chicago when we had that issue. I'm proud of this team. [We are] just taking a few steps in the points each week."

A crash in NASCAR's Chase opener at Chicago is all that separates the four-time champ from being considered a legitimate threat. And with seven races remaining in the season, he still may be.

"It's only been two weeks since we had our incident in Chicago. We've gained a tremendous amount of points on fifth place, sixth place. We did that again today.

"We've got seven more weeks to get it done.''

For all intents and purposes, Gordon's been on a comeback since the opening race of the year when his No. 24 Chevrolet lost a motor in the Daytona 500. He never even cracked the top-15 in the points standings until July, following the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A win in the rain-shortened Pocono race the next week kept Gordon very relevant and gave him at least a shot to earn a Chase berth.

With the postseason on the line, Gordon overcame a challenging race car, rain delays and similarly-motivated competition en route to a runner-up effort at Richmond -- just good enough to land him in the 12-driver Chase over other preseason title favorites such as Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards.

In some ways, Sunday's race at Dover was a microcosm of his season. Although his car was a solid top-10 car for most of the afternoon, he came on strongest when he had to, in the closing laps.

"It actually worked to our favor because we had to come in and top-off and make a couple of adjustments, and then we didn't have to save fuel there at the end and the car was really good,'' said Gordon, who collected his 22nd top-10 finish at Dover.

"I thought me and Mark Martin were going to battle it out for the win. He was chasing me down there and those other guys were saving fuel; all but the No. 2 [Keselowski] car and we just came up a little bit short. All in all, it was a great day."

Unfortunately for Gordon -- and 10 other Chase drivers -- it was also a great day for Brad Keselowski, who, along with Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, has begun to separate from the rest of the Chase field. Keselowski has a 48-point edge over 10th place Gordon and a 32-point advantage on fifth-place drivers Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne.

"We have to look very realistically at this point,'' said Gordon, who has won at six of the remaining seven Chase tracks. "We're not going to continue this championship against those guys up front if they keep running the way they're running. The only way we're going to get a chance at them is if they have a problem like we had.

"I think our focus is top-fives, try to win. If we keep running like this we'll get the wins. We can't control what the other guys do, we can only control what we do.''