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Gordon Still Plenty Capable Of Winning Cup No. 5

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 14 2014

The sun has not set on set on Jeff Gordon's career just yet. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – There’s an aura of maturity that surrounds Jeff Gordon these days. Perhaps it’s the result of  20-plus years of assaulting concrete walls at 180 mph or the equally impactful effect of twice becoming a father.

Whatever. But after winning last Saturday’s Sprint Cup race, it became evident that inside of Gordon still pulses with youthful racing juices.

After climbing out of his car in Victory Lane, one of the first things he said was that he feels 25-years-old again.

Well, maybe more like 28, his age when the double-digit-victory seasons stopped coming, but Gordon still looks extremely racy and extremely capable of getting that fifth Cup championship and perhaps catching David Pearson for second place on the all-time list.

Thank competitive machinery for all of it.

“The race cars that I’ve been driving are just making a lot of fun,” Gordon, who padded his points lead with the win at Kansas, said. “I just feel so competitive out there, and that makes me feel young again.

“I just see how hard these guys are working. It’s making me work harder. I’ve been really working harder on my fitness, which I think is helping me mentally and physically be more prepared out there.

“When the cars are that good, my back just doesn’t seem to hurt as much. The whole retirement thing I think is thrown out there too much, and I’m probably somewhat to blame, but there’s no secret, I’m going

Jeff Gordon drove all the way to Victory Lane in Kansas. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

to be 43 this year, but, man, if 43 is like this, I can’t wait for 50. This is all right. I’m having a good time. That’s why I feel young, because I’m just having a great time.”

Gordon has been driving fast cars the last year or so and has driven up front and put himself in position at the end of races. In this era, that’s about all you can ask for.

It’s an era when it is much more likely that the 36-race schedule will produce 10 or more different race winners than a 10-race-winning single driver.

A dozen years or so ago, a bunch of racing writers – there were a lot more of them back in those days too – were sitting around a media room table debating best-evers. Somebody made the mistake of saying that drivers are not as good as they used to be and cited the fact that nobody was dominating Victory Lane the way they once did.

The late, great David Poole ended that conversation in the way that only he could: Those days, Poole said, are over.

At Kansas on Saturday night, Gordon certainly looked capable of at least becoming a multi-race winner this year and for several to come.

Kevin Harvick had dominated large portions of the race in a rocket-fast Stewart-Haas Chevy. Gordon  took the lead from him during green-flag pit stops about 40 laps from the end but it was easy to suppose that he had more than enough time to track down and pass Gordon by the end of the race.

But over those final laps, Gordon was virtually flawless.

He talked about those final laps in which he was veteran-cool. He talked about them with a veteran’s cool monologue.

“I saw Kevin come off pit road onto the back straightaway and we got ahead of him, and I knew it was on at that moment,” Gordon said.

“I knew I had to push hard, and the car felt good at that time, so I was like, ‘Oh, we’re OK. And then I had to maneuver through some lapped traffic, and he got right to my bumper, but I actually was able to pull away from him, and I was like, ‘Wow, I wasn’t expecting that.’  He’d been so good all night. We’d finally gotten the car where I could run the top groove.

“So I started to settle in, and right about the time I settled in, I started getting super loose, especially in 3 and 4, and I didn’t know where that came from. Maybe it was traffic. Traffic was pretty tough out there tonight, and so – then he caught me, and I got through traffic. He had some trouble, and I pulled away, and I thought, okay, we’re good. And then the car was great, I took off, and all of a sudden got loose again.

“And so there at the end, I was just trying to stay away from traffic. I didn’t want to get closed up on anybody. I wanted to try to have a clean lap. I got through 1 and 2 pretty good, but I got over to 3 and the car just went completely sideways on me and I couldn’t get on the gas, and I thought I’d look like a bigger idiot if I spun out leading than just trying to make sure I get back to the line first. I gave up some speed there, but we won the race, so it’s all good.”

Gordon now has 89 race victories. Pearson has been sitting No. 2 to Richard Petty on the all-time list with 105 since 1980.

Gordon was asked about his chances about getting 106 before he’s done.

Gordon was absolutely Vintage Gordon in answering.

“I think we can get to 89 because we did it tonight,” he said. “And the next one on the list is 90.”

He’ll get that for sure because while the birth certificate may say 43, the heart and talent still look 25.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 14 2014
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