Gordon needs another dominant day at Sonoma
June 22, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
SONOMA, Calif. -- There was a time when Jeff Gordon showed up at Sonoma Raceway and it was only a question of who would finish second to him.
The Northern California native has twice as many wins (five) and top-five finishes (12) at his home track as any other driver he'll be competing against in Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET, TNT).
Gordon's 450 laps led is also a record, and the next closest in that category is Kurt Busch with 139 laps out front. And if Gordon's 16 top-10 efforts in 20 starts isn't impressive enough on its own right, consider that Tony Stewart is closest to that mark with nine top-10s.
Gordon leads all drivers with five victories at the rolling 12-turn, 1.99-mile Sonoma road course -- including a torrid string of three straight wins from 1998-2000, two of them from pole. He either won the race or the pole -- or both -- seven times between 1998 and 2006.
But while Gordon's work here used to be a matter of padding his already fantastic statistics, this year, a victory may be the difference in his making NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup.
He's racing for his season.
After a frustrating 39th-place finish last week at Michigan, Gordon fell five spots in the Cup standings and enters Sunday's race ranked 16th -- 18 points out of a guaranteed Chase position in the top 10.
He is nine points out of 12th place -- the second Wild Card position -- but will most likely need a win to qualify for that.
So what better venue to take care of that?
"I think we just look at this as an opportunity for us to run well and a chance to win," Gordon said Friday. "The bonuses are that it could contribute toward the Wild Card and help us in the points.
"Our focus is the same every weekend, we go trying to get the best finish that we can. When we have confidence going into a track that we can qualify well, race well then that certainly helps us accomplish our goal."
Gordon's No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet will roll off 10th on Sunday, just off his 7.3 average starting position at Sonoma, but it's his best grid position in the last six races this season.
And that alone is encouraging after two finishes of 35th or worse in the last four races.
Last week he only completed six laps before being collected in an accident. It was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he blamed a lot of that on his 29th-place qualifying effort.
"I put a lot of it on myself," Gordon said of his qualifying struggles this year. "I think I’ve got to be able to give good information back to the team to help them make adjustments, and you have to go out there and be aggressive. And if the car just doesn’t feel right and you don’t really have that confidence in it, then you’re not going to go out there and go fast.
"On those types of race tracks, particularly like Michigan a repave, really rock-hard tire, that’s what I’ve struggled with the last several years. Whether it’s old school, whether it’s me just getting old or we’re just missing something.
"We also know it’s something we have to work on. The nice thing about this weekend is it’s more traditional. This is pretty typical tire, typical track. It’s a new car, but not a lot has changed here over the years. You hear me say that a lot, when not a lot has changed we seem to be able to be confident and consistent and competitive at those tracks."
Gordon hasn’t won at Sonoma since 2006, but hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since 2005.
"I think that we learned a lot last year and we were pretty good and we had a few things that we were missing. So we’re taking those notes and then adding them to this car, and hopefully we can improve over the weekend to be a real threat."
"We have raced really well here in the past. I’m certainly optimistic and looking forward to the challenges."