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Gordon In Need Of Another Big Night In Richmond

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 6 2013

Jeff Gordon has several things going for him as he attempts to earn a Chase berth this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Momentum and its importance is an oft debated subject in sports. And a fairly predictable debate, also, as those who have momentum extoll its virtues while those don’t have it give it the double pooh.

NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon is lining up on the extolling side this week as he attempts to secure a berth in the Sprint Cup playoffs and he’s lining up for the traditional reason – he’s got a bit of momentum heading into the final non-Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship race.

“We’ve run good in recent weeks,” Gordon said Thursday during media day for Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway, “which I’m excited about.”

Gordon is coming off finishes of seventh and six at Bristol and Atlanta respectively the last two weeks. And he will start the Richmond race from the pole.

Gordon, who is 11th in points as the final non-Chase weekend of the season begins, has a couple of other things going for him as he attempts to secure one of the six remaining available spots in the 12-driver, 10-race playoff.

One of those things – kind of – is how he and his Hendrick Motorsports team performed during a test at Richmond recently.

“We didn’t have a great test, I’ll be honest. But I feel like we learned what not to do, made some big changes to improve the car as the test went on,” the four-time Cup champion said. “That’s certainly

Jeff Gordon not done yet. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

going to benefit us this weekend.”

Then there is his solid history at the .75-mile RIR oval: Gordon has a couple victories and has finished in the top 10 in 25 of his 41 starts there. He has led more laps at Richmond – 1,415 – than any of the other drivers in the field.

And finally, there is Gordon’s high level of stock-car racing experience. He’s been driving Cup cars since 1992.

“Every experience you go through is valuable, positives and negatives,” Gordon, and 87-time winner, said. “I can tell you not making the Chase is tough. I mean, you’re always looking for something to get behind and build momentum, step it up. When you don’t make the Chase, that’s tough. It’s hard to rebound from that.

“Yet we’re motivated by it, as well, in the last 10 races to get whatever it was we were lacking turned around. I think that it proved to be good for us because we went into the next season much stronger.”

But the fact that Gordon needs a big night in Richmond this year says a bit about his year and the current status of his career. He’s 42 years old now.  He’s not longer the kid. He has kids. He used to get more wins in a month than he now gets in entire seasons.

And luck has up and moved out on him, it seems on many Sunday afternoons.

It has been suggested by some in the media that he has lost confidence. On Thursday, Gordon said, yes, the old confidence has taken some punishment.

“I think this year I’ve admitted there’s been times when I’ve lacked in confidence when qualifying poorly,” Gordon said. “I’ve lacked in confidence many times throughout my career, but that’s because the car speaks to you. If you go through, let’s say three weeks in a row, where the car is not speaking to you, you’re not getting the speed out of it, things aren’t going well, I question everything.

“I question our setups, I question my driving, I’ll question tires, engines, everything. That’s just normal for me, and I would say most people.

“The one thing I also agree with, when that green flag drops, if that car sticks in turns, stops, then there’s nobody that’s going to have more confidence than me. Same with my team.

“You know, Pocono, I love Pocono, because after the Pocono race, my team is high‑fiving, fired up,

Jeff Gordon was helped by a rain delay at Richmond a year ago. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Yeah, that was awesome. That’s because I was making passes on restarts, and we drove to the front. We haven’t done enough of that this year.

“There’s no doubt that our confidence has been tested, mine personally. There’s no doubt that this team is not riding high like some of the other teams that are out there. That’s why we’re 11th or wherever we’re at in points right now.

“So I don’t dispute any of those things. That doesn’t change what our mission is on Saturday night, though.”

Last year at this time, Gordon was in a similar position – on dubious footing Chase-wise as the green flag dropped at Richmond.

When the race started, the footing got worse. He fell a lap down in 26th place when the race was stopped for rain on lap 155.

When the race restarted, Gordon began working his way forward. At the end, he finished second and three points ahead of Kyle Busch for the final Chase spot.

All of that appears to be giving Gordon a boost this year.

“After last year, this is going to be easy,” Gordon said. “We went through so much, it allows us to be more relaxed knowing you’ve got to race as hard as you can until the final lap. You can’t ever give up. If the car’s off, you’ve got to sometimes take big swings. Don’t get complacent.”

Below are the 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup clinch scenarios for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, the final race before the Chase field is set. Six drivers have clinched top-10 spots in the Chase: Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. Kasey Kahne, on the strength of two wins, has clinched at least a Wild Card spot.

Four drivers control their top-10 clinching destiny. Regardless of the finishes of any other driver…

Dale Earnhardt Jr., currently seventh in points, will clinch a top-10 spot with a finish of 32nd or better, 33rd with at least one lap led or 34th with the most laps led.

Joey Logano, currently eighth in points, will clinch a top-10 spot with a finish of 11th or better, 12th and at least one lap led or 13th and the most laps led.

Greg Biffle, currently ninth in points, will clinch a top-10 spot with a finish of ninth or better, 10th and at least one lap led or 11th and the most laps led.

Kurt Busch, currently 10th in points, will clinch a top-10 spot by winning, finishing second with at least one lap led or finishing third with the most laps led.

The remaining mathematically eligible drivers need help to clinch a top-10 spot. Some, however, control their own Wild Card destiny (a win would guarantee at least a Wild Card spot).

Clinch scenarios for the remaining eligible drivers follow…

Jeff Gordon: Currently 11th in points, Gordon would clinch at least a Wild Card spot with a victory at Richmond. Gordon, currently six points outside the top 10, remains eligible for a top 10 spot.

Kasey Kahne: Kahne, currently 12th in points, has already clinched at least a Wild Card spot. Ten points outside the top 10, Kahne remains eligible for a top 10 spot.

Martin Truex Jr.: Currently 13th in points, Truex would clinch at least a Wild Card spot with a victory at Richmond. Fifteen points outside the top 10, Truex remains eligible for a top 10 spot. Truex, currently holding the provisional No. 2 Wild Card spot, could clinch a Wild Card spot without a victory.

Ryan Newman: Currently 14th in points, Newman would clinch at least a Wild Card spot with a victory at Richmond. Twenty points outside the top 10, Newman remains eligible for a top 10 spot. Newman could clinch a Wild Card spot without a win (Logano and Biffle must remain in the top 10 or be replaced by Kahne; Newman must out-point Truex by six points; Gordon must not win; and Brad Keselowski or Jamie McMurray cannot win and overtake Newman).

Brad Keselowski: Currently 28 points outside the top 10, Keselowski remains eligible for a top-10 spot. Currently winless, Keselowski must win to be in contention for a Wild Card spot. Mathematically there will be at least two drivers outside the top 10 with wins. To clinch, Keselowski would need to win and outpoint Truex by 13 and Newman by eight (and would only need to outpoint one of these drivers if Kahne would displace a winless driver from the top 10). If Truex or Newman displaces Kurt Busch from the top 10, he would need to outpoint the other one-win driver remaining outside the top 10 by the requisite amount.

Jamie McMurray: Currently 39 points outside the top 10, McMurray remains eligible for a top-10 spot. Currently winless, McMurray must win to be in contention for a Wild Card spot. To clinch, McMurray would need to win and outpoint either Truex by 25 and Newman by 19 (and would only need to outpoint one of these drivers if Kahne would displace a winless driver from the top 10). If Truex or Newman displace Kurt Busch from the top 10, he would need to outpoint the other one-win driver remaining outside the top 10 by the requisite amount.

Paul Menard: To clinch, Menard would need to win and outpoint Truex by 47 and Newman by 42 (and would only need to outpoint one of these drivers if Kahne would displace a winless driver from the top 10). If Truex or Newman displace Kurt Busch from the top 10, he would need to outpoint the other one-win driver remaining outside the top 10 by the requisite amount.

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 6 2013
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