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Gordon sees Chase situation as win or go home

September 03, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM,

HAMPTON, Ga. -- After a disappointing second-place finish at AMS, driver focused on Richmond

The equation is simple for Jeff Gordon: Win Saturday night at Richmond, and he'll make the Chase.

The task is anything but simple.

"We know how bad we need that win, so it's pretty disappointing to come up short like that."


Gordon came oh-so-close to winning Sunday night's AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway but couldn't catch Denny Hamlin after a green-white-checkered restart. His second-place finish, on the heels of a third the previous week at Bristol, leaves him on the outside of the Chase field looking in for the first time in seven seasons.

A victory at Richmond renders all that moot. Although Gordon has won twice on the Richmond short track, he has not done so since 2000. His other victory there came in 1996.

"It's always hard to win, no matter where you go," said Gordon after Sunday's race. "We've had cars in the last couple years that have been good enough to win [at Richmond]. So we've already been talking about Richmond in our debriefs and about the things that we can do to improve our performance."

Gordon started sixth but finished 23rd in the first race at Richmond this season.

"We just completely, flat-out missed the setup last time we were there. [We were] trying some new stuff, and it didn't work. We'll go back with a little bit more conventional, typical [setup] for us and try to improve on it from there."

Mathematically, Gordon could make the Chase without winning at Richmond. That would require him to finish ahead of Kyle Busch, who he trails by 12 points. That scenario also presumes that Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman or Joey Logano doesn't find a way to win his second race of the season.

Further complicating Gordon's quest is that Busch has won four of the past seven Cup races at Richmond.

"You don't want to have to go beat Kyle Busch at Richmond. He's pretty strong there," Gordon said, laughing. "I'm not going into it thinking that we've got to finish, whatever, 12 positions ahead of Kyle. I'm thinking we've got to win. And if we don't make it, as long as we put our best effort forward, we didn't make it. Then we go try to win races in the final 10.

"I think we're really just going to focus on our own program like we always do. We focus on tuning the car, communicating and working the setup the best we possibly can. If we don't have the fastest car, we've got to switch it up. That puts a little more pressure on the crew chief or maybe even on me if we try some tire strategy, fuel mileage strategy [or] whatever we do track position-wise. But you can't predict any of those things."

Nor could Gordon have predicted he'd be in position to win Sunday night, not the way Martin Truex Jr. was running until Jamie McMurray blew a tire, creating a green-white-checkered finish. Gordon tucked in behind leader Denny Hamlin on the restart and took the high side, trying to get to Hamlin's bumper on the final lap.

"I'm just mad at myself right now," Gordon said, kicking himself for not doing more on the final two laps. "I don't know, I guess I'm just getting soft in my old age. I'm too nice because ... 15 years ago, I would have just moved him right up the racetrack. I don't know why I didn't do that. I thought I could get to his quarter panel and slow him down and stay there. But [when] I got there, I just carried too much speed into [Turn] 3, and it pushed up the racetrack.

"We know how bad we need that win, so it's pretty disappointing to come up short like that."

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Hamlin had one eye on his rearview mirror.

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"As for as him getting into me, I knew how desperate he was," said Hamlin, looking out for himself and his teammate, Busch, in the big picture. "But he knew that we could not let him win. It was critical for our team to not let Jeff get a win.

"But the reason he didn't [bump us] is because we have a mutual respect. I haven't moved him out of the way for a win or anything like that. We race each other with respect. Maybe if it's somebody else, he doesn't even think twice and he moves them out of the way. But I feel like I've earned that respect that I should have got the last lap, and he gave it to me."

Respect aside, it was especially aggravating for Gordon to be handed an opportunity to win on a night when it seemed unlikely.

"Unless Martin ran out of fuel, we were pretty much going to finish second," he said. "That caution was the best thing that could have happened for us. That was really, to me, the only thing that gave us a shot to win. ... I thought we were better than [Hamlin] on the restarts, and I got a little bit too tight [on the last one]. We had the run. We had it and just didn't do enough with it going down the back straightaway."

Gordon, who started fifth and ran in the top 10 for the vast majority of laps, said the long, hot night took a toll.

"What a battle," he said. "You know going into this race that it's going to be a fight. You know, the track is just so slick and your car has a lot of grip for about five laps, and then all of a sudden, it just starts going sideways. We just never could get my car tight enough. On the short runs we were really fast, which worked to our favor.

"That race is always intense. I've been a part of it where I've either been trying to get in like this or trying to stay in the Chase. There's so much on the line, trying to win the race. When you look at how many guys have to win the points [battle] and everything else, I mean, it's going to be a pretty crazy night."

Gordon spelled out his bottom line as he looks ahead.

"We've got a lot of pressure on us, so we're going to be going there [with] guns loaded and ready to do battle," he said. "I mean, just like what we did [Sunday]. We're just going to fight all the way to that last lap.

"Short-track [racing] is a little bit different than mile-and-a-half. I think everybody expects there to be a little more pushing and shoving on the short track. That's definitely going to ramp up the intensity."