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Gordon Needs A Return To Old Days In Kansas

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, October 4 2013

Jeff Gordon would love to go back to the future at Kansas this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Time was, Kansas Speedway was a Jeff Gordon track. In the best of those times, Gordon could not be beaten at Kansas. Literally.

But what remains of those days for the four-time Sprint Cup champion are some dusty trophies and perhaps a handful of old photos in which he had just gotten rid of his mullet.

What Gordon said he clearly needs in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, is for his past to come back to life – not the mullet part of it – for an afternoon because unless he can drive his way to a podium finish at Kansas, he will have very little chance at becoming a five-time Cup champion in 2013.

Gordon will hit the progressive banking at Kansas fifth in points on Sunday. He will be 39 behind leader Matt Kenseth. He will be searching for his first victory of the season – a season which has seen him log just six top-five finishes.

“This has been a very frustrating year for us,” Gordon said on Thursday. “We’ve tested ourselves, me personally, Alan (Gustafson, crew chief), the engineers, the pit crew, everybody on this team because we’ve gone to race tracks where we felt like we should have performed and we didn’t. We have gone to race tracks where we were performing and made mistakes or had failures and that tests your patients, it tests your frustration in the car and off the track your relationship with the people on the team.

“When you can fight through that it makes you stronger. We thought we fought through enough last years, but we actually I think needed a little bit more of that. It’s been a struggle. Knowing what struggles we

Jeff Gordon was unbeatable at Kansas back in the day. (Photo courtesy of Kansas Speedway)

have been through to have things going well it is exciting because we can appreciate it so much more because we know what those tough times were really like.”

In the past, a trip to Kansas would have been viewed as wonderful medicine for the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team.

Gordon won the first two Kansas races – in 2001 and 2002.

From the 2002 race up until the fall race of 2010, Gordon had seven top-10 finishes in 10 starts.

But then things started going badly for Gordon at the 1.5-mile Kansas oval. His last four starts have resulted in an average finish of 19.5. His career stats show he has slipped from an average finish of 1.0 after 2002, to 11.1 today.

How can that be? Oh, it be.

On Friday, Gordon said, voice at low volume, “I look at this as one of our weaker tracks.”

Like, yikes.

“I think all we can do is our best to get the best out of our car and our team,” Gordon said. “We can’t control what our competitors do. We can only control what we do and to me it’s just living up to our full potential. Then just kind of let the chips fall the way they are supposed to or the way they will. We can’t play those scenarios out in our mind because you just don’t know how that is going to happen. You just go out and race as hard as you can and I’m very proud of the effort that we’ve put out.”

Still, Gordon is not quite ready to start thinking about 2014. Though he has a sizable point deficit to overcome, and some pretty talented bodies to crawl over, Gordon said 2013 is still the focus.

And the fact is, Gordon’s confidence is fairly well grounded. He has two top-six finishes in the three Chase races. His worst finish is 15th and that came at New Hampshire – where he led 36 laps.

“I made a mistake at New Hampshire that cost us,” Gordon, who slid through his pit box during a pit stop on lap 202 in Loudon, said. “Other than that we have gained on everybody in the Chase except for the top three guys. Those guys have been performing very well. If they don’t have some issues or have a really bad day then nobody is going to catch them.

“If we can perform well here I think it really puts us in great position to go gain some points at a few other tracks. That is what we are looking at doing right now.”

Besides, Gordon said, just the fact that when the final non-Chase race ended at Richmond last month, Gordon was a non-Chaser. It then took a ruling by NASCAR to expand the Chase to get him in.

“We are way ahead of the game right now,” he said. “We were four weeks ago not in it. Now we are in it and we are up to fifth or tied for fourth. We are pleased with where we are at. We are not going to complain about being where we are at, at all.”

But you’ve got to believe he also wishes he was at where he was in 2001 – the year he won Kansas and went on to win the Cup championship.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, October 4 2013
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