With historic streak, Gordon only looks forward
July 05, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Related: Practice results | Standings | Complete coverage from Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- At 41, Jeff Gordon doesn’t dwell on career achievements. The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion is too busy going forward to look back.
Milestones have been attained, flashing by like the grandstands at a superspeedway, a 200-mph blur.
When Coors Light Pole Qualifying for the Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola (7:30 p.m. Saturday, TNT) gets underway Friday at Daytona International Speedway, another significant mark will be hanging in the balance. It’s nothing new -- the opportunity has been there since the 2013 season began. But with each race, another opportunity passes.
Gordon has won at least one pole for 20 consecutive seasons, a record he shares with only one other driver -- NASCAR Hall of Famer and three-time Cup champion David Pearson.
GORDON'S COORS LIGHT
Poles by track: Charlotte (8); Martinsville (7); Bristol, Michigan, Richmond, Sonoma (5); Dover, New Hampshire (4); Darlington, Daytona, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Talladega (3); Atlanta, Auto Club, Pocono, Rockingham, Texas, Watkins Glen (2); Chicago, North Wilkesboro (1)
Active tracks where he has yet to win a pole: Las Vegas, Kansas, Kentucky, Homestead-Miami
FULL SERIES COVERAGE
His 72 career poles are most among active drivers, and No. 3 for the series overall. Only Richard Petty (123) and Pearson (113) qualified No. 1 more often.
There’s a time for reflection and a time for focus. Reflection will have to wait.
“I’ve always enjoyed qualifying and I feel like it has been our strong suit over the years,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “Right now, all I’m thinking about is ‘What are we missing this year? What am I doing wrong? What do we need to do as a team to get better?’
“So it’s hard for me to think that we’ve accomplished that.
“But things like that, the top-fives (third all-time), the wins (third all-time), one day when I get to just sit back and reflect on everything and look at those numbers, I know that I’ve accomplished things that I never dreamed I would. And I’m going to be very proud of them.
“But I can’t help in the moment be thinking more about today and this year and what we have to do.”
Winless through this year’s first 17 races, Gordon is 12th in points and one of a handful of drivers battling for a berth in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. It’s understandable, then, that his focus isn’t on records, streaks or milestones.
Second fastest here in February, Gordon has just one top-10 start in his last six races. And starting up front matters -- 53 of his 87 career wins have come from a starting position inside the top 10.
Of his 72 poles, three came at Daytona and two of those were for July races. The last here came in 2004. He’s been most successful in qualifying trim at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he has started No. 1 eight times. Martinsville Speedway has been kind, too, where he’s produced seven poles.
“You’ve got to give the team a lot of credit,” Gordon says, “when it comes to qualifying. It’s more of just getting the car to do what you want it to do … some tracks you can miss your line a little bit and still get away with it. Michigan and Atlanta come to mind; other tracks are very line sensitive, where you have to hit it spot on. Charlotte is one of those.”
Going fast for a couple of laps and going fast for an afternoon require different approaches, and a different mindset from the driver, he said. Racing begins with a feeling out of the car, an understanding of one’s surroundings. Qualifying is more intense, each move more crucial with no time to overcome the occasional mistake.
“When we go to race, it’s more of a calming, just ‘alright let’s feel the car out in the first corner, who we are around, is the outside going to be good, is the inside going to be good?,’ he said. “It’s more about just getting into a rhythm and a pace and giving good feedback to the team as the race progresses.
“In qualifying, you have to pump yourself up, take deep breaths; you have to be so mentally focused and picture that lap in your mind. And hope that the car sticks because you have to be running aggressively.
“You’ve got to run that car down in the corner deep, and you’ve got to put a lot of wheel to it and you’ve got to feed the throttle to it. And that’s just to make it a decent lap. If you’re going to make it a pole-winning lap, you’re going to have to scare yourself a little bit and you come off of Turn 4 going ‘Oof! That was a lap right there. Let’s see what it shows on the clock.’ ”