Quietly Making Noise
SMYRNA, DE. (September 25)- - Jeff Gordon struggled at times during the Dover 400, but a 3rd place finish did wonders for his confidence level heading into a string of tracks where he expects to contend for victories. "We took advantage of having that number one pit stall and good track position but we lost track position and had to get it back," Gordon said. "The car was really good on long runs. Crew chief Steve Letarte (crew chief) made some great calls. We had great pit stops-- that last stop really brought us back into this thing. It got kind of crazy out there with guys getting in and out of sync and then running out of fuel. So we're pretty fortunate to come home third. That's what it takes to be up there in this Chase and running for this championship." Though Gordon knows his standing in the points is tenuous at best since one lackluster finish could find him outside the top-five. Nevertheless, the team heads to Kansas just six points out of the lead. Gordon hasn't led the standings since scoring the victory in the 2005 Daytona 500. "Matt Kenseth had the car to beat and Jeff Burton was tough there in the end as well," Gordon said. "We've still got a little bit more work to do, but we’ve got some really good tracks coming up."
Big Game Hunting
SMYRNA, DE. (September 25)- - Jeff Gordon listed New Hampshire and Dover as two tracks that could have posed a challenge for his race team during the chase for the championship. However, after two consecutive 3rd place finishes at those tracks, Gordon has further established himself as a title contender. He's second in the points standings, just 6 points behind Jeff Burton as the series heads to Kansas and a 1.5-mile track next weekend-- the kind of track Gordon has excelled on over the summer. He didn't have a dominant car by any stretch of the imagination at Dover, but the team played its cards close to the vest and came out with a 3rd place finish Gordon started on the pole but didn't lead any laps during the race as Ryan Newman took the lead from the outset. Gordon came onto pit road under caution on lap 24 and dropped to 19th as most of the lead lap cars stayed out. He moved up to 13th by the next caution on lap 48. He departed pit road in 8th, but eventually slipped back to 11th on lap 61 complaining about not being able to drive off the corners. Another pit stop on lap 98 brought an air pressure adjustment and Gordon began to make headway on the track. He passed Scott Riggs for 8th, and took 7th from Newman on lap 116. A debris caution on lap 165 brought the field to pit road, with Gordon departing in 5th. But the restart presented a challenge as Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards took spots from Gordon. He ran in 7th until a caution on lap 185. A four tire stop followed and Gordon was back in 14th. He made his way up to 11th before another caution on lap 205. A four tire pit stop put Gordon back in 16th position. On the restart the car seemed to hook up off the corners. He moved up to 14th by lap 250, and into the top-10 on lap 274 with a pass on Greg Biffle. Because he pitted on lap 205, Gordon could go further on fuel than some of the drivers ahead of him. He moved up to 7th after Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, and Martin Truex were forced to pit for gas. On lap 298, Scott Riggs made contact with the wall, thus trapping several drivers one lap down. With just 10 cars on the lead lap, Gordon came off pit road in 7th place. He moved up to 6th before the final caution of the day for J.J. Yeley's spin on lap 319. Gordon returned to pit road for tires. He restarted in 5th, but dropped back to 7th after Clint Bowyer and Edwards went by. With 33 laps to go, Kevin Harvick's engine expired, thus altering the points standings. Gordon took 6th with 30 laps to go after Bowyer's engine lost power. He took 5th place from Kurt Busch in the closing stages before Matt Kenseth and Reed Sorensen both ran out of fuel on the final lap allowing Gordon to gain another two positions. He finished a distant third behind race winner Jeff Burton and Edwards, but the big picture is what Gordon had in mind all day. Gordon is second in points-- his highest position in the standings since May 2005.
SOUTH FLORIDA. (September 18)- - After struggling at Richmond, Jeff Gordon knew that the momentum he had from three straight top-5 finishes had been erased. But he also knew that his first chance to regain that momentum was in New Hampshire. Gordon had a lackluster 15th place finish at the track in July, but rebounded with a strong 3rd place finish in the Sylvania 300. "I think as bad as our run was at Richmond it was pretty important for us to make some kind of statement," Gordon said. "You want to be competitive. We were today. It is fun to up there and take the lead and have a strong car like that. We lost the handling on it in the middle a little bit, but all I can ask for every single weekend is to have the type of race car and the kind of effort we had here today. If we can do that, we are really going to give these guys a run for their money."
Wheel Inside The Wheel
LOUDON, N.H. (September 18)- - Jeff Gordon didn't score the victory in the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway, but a strong third place finish is what the DuPont team needed for their final nine-race sprint to the championship. Gordon moved up from 9th to 4th in the points standings with the finish. At times he looked dominant and at other times he struggled with handling issues-- though he ran in the top-5 for the balance of the day. Gordon started on the outside of the front row and took the lead from eventual winner Kevin Harvick on lap 28. Gordon dropped to 5th after the first round of pit stops because he took four tires. Traffic didn't hinder his efforts as he passed Denny Hamlin and David Stremme on lap 37 to move up to 3rd. Gordon passed Jeff Burton for the runner-up spot on lap 42 before reassuming the lead from Harvick on lap 53. He held the lead through another round of pit stops, but lost the lead on a restart on lap 86. Four laps later the title chase took a turn as Jimmie Johnson slammed the turn two wall. Gordon held the runner-up spot until another restart on lap 104. He dropped to 5th by lap 120 before taking 4th from Dale Earnhardt Jr on lap 157. Gordon moved to 3rd during pit stops, but slid to 5th on the ensuing restart. Sliding back on restarts was a recurring theme for Gordon throughout the race. With 100 laps to go, Gordon was in 4th place behind Harvick, Ryan Newman, and Brian Vickers. A fuel only pit stop on lap 206 made conversation the buzzword as Gordon was about 1 lap short on fuel at that point. However, a caution for Scott Riggs' cut tire with 35 laps to go took fuel out of the equation. Gordon got a good restart and closed in on Vickers for 2nd place. After a side-by-side duel for two laps, Gordon edged ahead of his teammate. The final caution came with 9 laps to go for Kyle Petty's engine. Gordon lined up behind Harvick on the restart with 5 laps to go, with Tony Stewart right behind. Stewart had fresher tires and was able to pass Gordon on the outside, though he was unable to challenge Harvick for the victory. Harvick's second consecutive victory gave him the points lead for the first time in his career. "We were bad on restarts all day," Gordon said. "Our car was just set up for the long run. We lost the handling a little bit toward the middle of the race. But that last set of tires was the best we had all day. We made it on fuel, but it's hard to beat those guys on fresh tires. I knew I went to the top, then Tony was going to go to the bottom. So I tried to protect the bottom where I was best, and he got by me on the outside."
RICHMOND, VA. (September 10)- - In the 4th Century B.C., the philosopher Aristotle said, "The mind is a clean tablet upon which experience writes." After a 31st place finish in the Chevy 400 at Richmond International Raceway, Jeff Gordon is fortunate to have that clean tablet and 10 races to write a new experience as the 'chase for the championship' commences next weekend. Gordon's team simply missed the setup yet again at the 3/4-mile track. He hasn't finished higher than 30th at Richmond in his last four races there. Though Gordon has locked himself in to the chase, he slipped from 4th in the standings to 9th following the disappointing night in Richmond. He starts the chase 40 points behind Matt Kenseth. "It's hard for me to be excited from such a poor performance," Gordon said. "But it's what we did all year long to get ourselves in this position. We know what it's like to be on the outside looking in last year-- it wasn't fun. But it allowed our team to get turned around and get in this year. I'm really glad Richmond's in the last 10 races. I don't know what it is we're missing, but we just could not hit it. It's been like this the last five times we've been here. From handling to brake problems it was a real struggle tonight." Gordon finished just one point behind 8th place Jeff Burton, and a mere two points ahead of 10th place Kasey Kahne. "Nobody came on (the radio) and said 'you have to maintain that position.' We had such an issue with the brakes at the end that I was just trying to get it home in one piece."
Spirit In The Night
FONTANA, CA. (September 3)- - A fifth place finish in the Sony 500 at California Speedway pushed Jeff Gordon up to 4th in the points standings with just one race remaining before the 10-race "playoff" begins. At this point it would take a series of unfortunate events for Gordon to miss the season-ending 'chase for the championship.' Gordon started 14th at California and gambled with two tires on the first pit stop to gain track position. He restarted in 2nd but quickly dropped back to 5th. He fell as low as 8th on lap 26 before another round of pit stops. After changing four tires, Gordon took off toward the front. He entered the top-5 on lap 43 and took the runner-up spot from eventual winner Kasey Kahne on lap 47. Gordon took the lead from Denny Hamlin on lap 55. He held the lead until a restart on lap 87 when he dropped to 6th. He made his way around race traffic and was running in 2nd on lap 110. Gordon came off pit road in 3rd on lap 111, but regained the runner-up spot by getting Kyle Busch loose from behind. He eventually reassumed the lead under caution. During pit stops on lap 155, Gordon exited pit road with the top spot as sunset gave way to darkness at the track. Gordon's race took a turn for the worse on lap 174 when a missed lugnut during a pit stop required another stop under caution. Gordon dropped back to 25th on the restart on lap 179. The final caution flag pit stops came on lap 192 with Gordon exiting pit road in 17th place. With four fresh tires he steadily worked through race traffic and moved back into the top-10 with 34 laps to go. He passed Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, and Scott Riggs to move up to 6th with 23 to go. However, without a caution he had no chance to catch Kahne. Gordon came onto pit road for a splash of fuel with 12 laps to go. He moved up to 5th when Reed Soresen ran out of fuel with 2 laps to go. Gordon's third straight top-5 finish further solidified his spot in the final 10-race playoff. "I hate the (lugnut) problem happened to us," Gordon said. "We had a great car and were in a great position. We were fortunate to be able to drive from the back up to the front. I knew Kahne was the car to beat. We had him in our sights at times and I guess we should feel fortunate to finish fifth. Had we not had the problem we certainly would have been close to them and had a shot at them."
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