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Gordon Hopes To Re-Open The Old Road Show

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 11 2012

Jeff Gordon got his first victory of 2012 a week ago at Pocono. He goes for No. 2 Sunday at Watkins Glen. (RacinToday/HHP photo courtesy of Alan Marler)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon doesn’t spend time thumbing through his back pages, so the four Sprint Cup Series victories he has scored at Watkins Glen International are little more than a rainy day talking point in the summer of 2012.

“I’m very optimistic and excited about this weekend,” Gordon said as showers played havoc on Friday with Cup practice for Sunday’s Finger Lakes 355 at The Glen. “But just because we won here however many years ago it doesn’t mean that my confidence is sky-high, because I don’t feel like we’ve been good enough to win here in recent years.”

Gordon stamped himself as heir-apparent to Mark Martin as NASCAR’s resident King of the Road when he matched the former Roush Fenway Racing ace’s record of three consecutive Cup victories (1993-95). Gordon went back-to-back-to-back from 1997-99 and added a fourth win in 2001. Since then, three-time series/reigning champion Tony Stewart has put together five wins (2002, 2004-05, 2007 and 2009) on the historic 2.45-mile/11-turn layout.

But the topic again was relevant for Sir Jeff, who scored his first win of the season in the rain-shortened Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway last Sunday. Five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, appeared headed to a second consecutive victory as he held the lead on a restart on Lap 91. But barreling into Turn 1 of the “Tricky Triangle,” Johnson’s car broke loose and took out those of

Jeff Gordon used to fly around the road courses. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. Gordon scooted under the mess and went on to his 86th career victory when rain forced a red-flag stoppage that led to the checkered flag.

“It’s been a great week,” said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet Impala tuned by Alan Gustafson. “We put ourselves in the right place at the right time, which is something that hasn’t happened much for us this season. It’s great that we were able to capitalize on that.”

Gordon snapped a 31-race winless streak and elevated his Chase for the Sprint Cup status to provisional wild-card qualifier. Gordon bypassed three wild-card rivals and would join Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne, 11th in points, if the field for NASCAR’s 10-race postseason was set today.

“Not thinking a whole lot about the wild-card, because I just think there is far too much racing left to go,” said Gordon, alluding to the five events remaining before the Chase field is set at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 8. “It was great to get that win; that definitely gives us a shot at it. But right now we’ve got to come here and focus on getting the job done here and the next four weeks. If we do our jobs right, I think we can make it in.”

A four-time Cup champion, Gordon is 13th in the standings, 68 points out of the top-10. While he has scored the same number of points (611) as one-time winner Ryan Newman of Stewart-Haas Racing, Gordon holds the best-finish tie-breaker (two fifths to Newman’s one). Gordon also became Hendrick’s fourth winner of the season, first time since 2007 each of the team’s drivers posted at least one victory.

But as Gordon readily admitted, his record at WGI of late has been mediocre – two top-10s and an average finish of 20.1.

“The good thing is that I think what Alan and I have had coming into the crew chief/driver combination that happened at the beginning of last year was that we always seem to be on the same page,” Gordon said. ”We get along really well and we’ve been able to build on that. It certainly helped last year getting the three wins and being as competitive as we were. Over the offseason we just made a commitment to one another that we’re after the same goals, we enjoy working with one another and believe in one another through thick-and-thin.

“I mean, we might have had a couple of glasses of wine while that conversation was happening, but we meant what we said.”

HMS’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. – who prefers a cold beer to vino and also leads former champion Kenseth of Roush

Dale Earnhardt Jr. says Jeff Gordon's victory last week gave Hendrick Motorsports a nice boost. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Fenway by five points (744-739) – said Rick Hendrick’s entire organization would enjoy a huge boost if Gordon were to qualify for the Chase.

“I’ve felt like since the beginning of the year, right at the start the No. 5 (Kahne) and No. 24 were rocket-fast,” said Junior, driver of the No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevy. “I thought they had the most speed that I saw in the garage when we would go to places like Phoenix (International Raceway). They’ve been quick all year and Jeff has just had this terrible luck.

“When you really watch every practice lap like I do, like the drivers and crew chiefs…everybody watches every single lap everybody runs. We’re all trying to figure out who has the best average in practice and who has the best fall-off, or least amount of fall-off. You do this every single week and Jeff and the No. 5 car are always near the top of those lists as the best-performing cars throughout practice and throughout the weekend.

“I always felt Jeff would find a way to get in because he just always has been able to accomplish whatever he wants. Both teams are contenders, just because of their ability to be fast. Speed is No. 1 on your list when you’re wanting to pick attributes for a strong race team. They definitely got it.”

Along those lines, Gordon placed fourth on the speed chart after Friday’s lone Cup practice, posting a hot lap of 124.044 mph. The session was led by Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Inc. Chevy, at 125.055 mph. Cup teams are scheduled for a final practice Saturday morning before qualifying at 11:40 a.m. (EDT). Gordon, incidentally, has two career poles at WGI.

“I feel the garage area knows how strong the No. 24 has been,” said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Cortez Silver Chevy and fourth in points, eight behind Junior. “He’s (Gordon) a great driver, great team and they are plenty capable of winning the championship. Until he had the win I don’t think people paid a lot of attention to it. Momentum seemed to be against him in a lot of ways that maybe people weren’t paying attention _ but now they will. You cannot count that No. 24 out.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 11 2012
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