Confident Gordon aims to close gap on Johnson
October 27, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Martinsville represents chance for veteran to make a surge
Entering Sunday's Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 powered by Kroger, the Hendrick Motorsports driver sits fifth in the standings, trailing teammate Jimmie Johnson by 34 points. In between the two are Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth (second) and Kyle Busch (third), as well as Richard Childress Racing's Kevin Harvick (fourth).
It's been billed, for the most part, as a two-man race between Johnson and Kenseth heading into the sixth of 10 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup races. And while Martinsville, a tiny, tight 0.526-mile oval, might be Johnson's domain -- he's an eight-time winner here and winner of the track's last two Sprint Cup Series races -- Gordon's proven to be no slouch on the flat track himself.
"Absolutely, we come in here feeling really good about this race track and our race team," said Gordon, a seven-time Martinsville winner. "We have had a lot of positive things that have happened to us over the last six weeks.
"To come with a good feeling about where we are at as a race team and our race cars and come into one of my favorite race tracks, a track that we have had good results at, not only in the past but this year, it definitely is something that we come into very excited about."
Can that excitement translate into a return trip to Victory Lane? It's been eight years since he last wheeled his No. 24 Chevrolet into the winner's circle at Martinsville. In the 15 races since, he's been competitive if not dominant, with three runner-up finishes and a dozen top-five finishes. He led 92 laps in this race a year ago, then finished third in this year's spring event.
Fourth in points two weeks ago, he slipped to fifth with a 14th-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway last week.
Gordon will start ninth Sunday, behind Johnson, Busch and Kenseth. Harvick will be alongside Gordon in the fifth row after qualifying 10th.
"This is the track that I believe has changed the least," Gordon said of the series' oldest venue. "The track, the setups and the tires have changed the least since I started racing in NASCAR.
"Martinsville isn't about aerodynamics. Even though the cars have gotten faster, the way you drive the track, how you use the brakes, how you roll the center (of the corner) and how you apply the throttle hasn't changed drastically here versus other tracks."
His first win at Martinsville came in his eighth start at the track (in 1996), and from '95 through 2000, he finished inside the top 10 in all 12 races, winning three times.
"It took me a while to figure out how to get around here," Gordon said. "During a test early in my career we were just doing lap after lap after lap and it finally just clicked for me. We started having success after that.
"With all the experience and success that we've had here, that can carry over from race to race and even season to season. Because of that, we always seem to enter a Martinsville race weekend with confidence."