Gordon looking to continue his winning streak at Watkins Glen
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - He sits just 13th in the Chase Cup standings, but few drivers scare the Sprint Cup leaders more than Jeff Gordon.
If the Chase started the second wild-card winner would be a man who has won the Sprint Cup title four times and is third in career wins.
At times this season Gordon was all but left for dead in the Chase as he struggled to recover from blowing his engine in the season opening Daytona 500.
However, after a rain-shortened victory a week ago at Pocono, Gordon now heads to Watkins Glen International, a track he has won at four times, looking to help secure a spot in the Chase.
While things are going good right now, Gordon doesn't want to start thinking too far ahead.
We put ourselves in the right place at the right time," Gordon said. "I'm not thinking a whole lot about the wild card because I just think there is far too much racing left to go. It was great to get that win. That definitely gives us a shot at it, but 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."
All season long Gordon's car was running well, but he just wasn't getting the results and it made him start to wonder if something needed to change.
"Sometimes when things aren't going your way you start to question," Gordon said. "'Is this a test that we have to pass or is this a sign that this isn't the right combination?' I think if we hadn't performed as well as we have this year where we've had really fast race cars, I think there probably would have been a change."
Many of the other drivers saw how well Gordon was running this year and they know how scary he can be in the chase. Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. figured it was just a matter of time before Gordon started getting wins.
"I've felt like since the beginning of the year, right at the start, the No. 5 (Kasey Kahne) and the No. 24 were rocket fast," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I thought they had the most speed that I saw in the garage when we would go to places like Phoenix. They've been that quick all year and Jeff has just had this terrible luck. When you really watch every practice lap like I do, we're all trying to figure out who has the best average in practice, and who has the best the 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 of those 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've definitely got it."
While other drivers might think Gordon is someone to watch in the chase, he is looking at other drivers as bigger threats.
"I think there are other guys they would be more worried about," Gordon said. "Jimmie Johnson is the guy you've got to worry about, I think, right now. And Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. - I think that Junior has not maybe led as many laps, or won as many races as Jimmie, but there is a reason why they are where they are in the points. They've been consistently up front every weekend. They are rock-solid.
"You have to look at Hendrick as a whole. But I think it would be hard not to be a little nervous about Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and that No. 48 team right now, as dominant as they have been, and as strong as they have been. You get them in the Chase with that kind of performance, and I would think they'd be at the top of anybody's worry list."
However, Johnson looks at Gordon as one of the drivers who could be a big threat.
"I feel the garage area knows how strong the No. 24 has been," Johnson said. "Chase-related, the garage is much more concerned about him and they should be. He's 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. Maybe people weren't paying attention. But now, they will. You cannot count that No. 24 out. I guess, deep down inside, I've always expected the No. 24 to be in the Chase so it hasn't changed anything for me."
History says that Watkins Glen is a good place to follow up a victory, after all he has the four victories there. However, since his last win at Watkins Glen in 2001, he has just two top 10 finishes and Gordon knows about those struggles all to well.
"I am very optimistic and excited about the weekend, but just because I've won here however many years ago, I don't think my confidence is sky high here."
All year long Gordon felt he and crew chief Alan Gustafson saw eye to eye on things.
"Alan and I always seem to be on the same page," Gordon said. "Over the off season we just made a commitment to one another that we were 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. Certainly at that point we didn't realize we were going to be challenged quite the way we have been this year."
And, while Gordon has been challenged this year, with five races to go he has a chance to put himself in the Chase and try and bring home championship number five.