Gordon not giving up Chase hopes
Jul 28, 2012
No one has to tell Jeff Gordon what he has to do. He's well aware that he needs to win at least two of the next seven races, a stretch that begins with Sunday's Brickyard 400 – and that still may not be enough to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Should Gordon miss the Chase for the Sprint Cup, it would be for just the second time in the Chase's nine-year history.
The four-time Sprint Cup champion has struggled miserably in 2012. He comes into Sunday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ranked 17th, 183 points behind series leader Matt Kenseth and 79 points out of the top 10.
That's why so many observers have been pointing at Sunday's 19th renewal of the Brickyard as a make-or-break weekend for the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet. The fans know it, the media and competitors know it, and no one knows how important it is more than Gordon.
"Obviously our season hasn’t gone the way that we had hoped it would," Gordon said. "We’ve shown a lot of speed. We’re capable of leading laps, and we just haven’t come up with the results. … These next several weeks are obviously crucial for us. You’ve got Indianapolis and we’ve got a bunch of tracks coming up that we’re definitely capable of winning at. And we know that we’re going to have to win at those in order to get ourselves in the championship Chase."
If he were to hand-pick a spot to kick off his rally to make the Chase, Gordon could choose no better spot than Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he has become the example for everyone else to follow.
In 18 previous starts, Gordon has won four Brickyard 400 races at IMS, along with 10 top-5 and 14 other top-10 finishes.
A fifth Brickyard triumph – and his first in nearly a decade (his last win at IMS was in 2004) -- would give Gordon and his team a big boost of momentum as they try to dig out of the hole they've dug for themselves thus far this season.
"I never dreamed of winning one (Brickyard 400), let along four," Gordon said. "So five would only just be unimaginable, really. Yet I look at last year (when) we were so close to getting number five. And that’s the way you have to focus on it.
"You don’t focus on a number. You focus on getting your car to the front and leading the lap that counts the most; that last one. It’s still just such a special place to drive into to experience. Even just flying over when we come in and fly into Indianapolis, I’m always excited and eager to look out the window and find the track.
"It’s just a very special place and I love just competing here. It’s a very challenging race track to compete on in our cars. … I always come in here with confidence knowing we have a shot at winning. And we’ve been fortunate to win four of them and get close to five last year. And I hope we get closer to five this year."
Gordon indeed came close in last year's Brickyard 400, finishing runner-up to winner Paul Menard.
"We ran well here last year," Gordon said. "A lot has changed since we were here last, but I'm hoping we can take what we've learned in that time and be even faster, even better this year."
While this is an important time for Gordon, there's no point in panicking. Just a few twists here or there – maybe finally getting some good luck to replace the bad luck that has put him so far back in 2012 – and Gordon could become the story of the Chase, namely, how he made it and how he potentially could go on to win his fifth career Cup championship as well.
"We’re not doing anything different than we have all year long," Gordon said. "We know how hard it is to win and we also know how easy it can be when you do things right and have a fast race car. And so, is there urgency? Yeah, absolutely. One win is going to be great, but it’s still not going to get us into the Chase, I don’t believe.
"So we know we’ve got to put a string of races together here to get ourselves in that opportunity to win more than one race."
Gordon, who will start Sunday's race from ninth position on the qualifying grid, feels his team's fortunes have turned the corner – and the results appear to bear that out. In his last five races, he's finished 6th, 6th, 5th, 12th and 6th.
"It’s really been just how do we turn these great runs into great results," Gordon said. "Obviously what makes that even more challenging as the weeks go by and you don’t get the results and the fans, the media, the social media and all those things start to weigh on you heavily. So, it’s nice to have a lot of support out there as well, like our sponsors and our fans. But most importantly, it’s what the team does. This team is one that has gotten through some pretty tough times this year and has stuck together."
Well-rested from last week's final off-weekend of the season, Gordon feels he's in the right time at the right place to accomplish two goals at once: to win his fifth Brickyard and to move closer to being one of the 12 drivers that make the Chase.
"Most people look at us while we’re in 17th in the points and no wins, as these guys don’t have a shot," said Gordon, whose best finish thus far this season is fourth (at Texas). "We’ve run so good at this track and this track and this track and this track (and being) capable of winning multiple races this year and we’ve got to put all the things together to pull off those victories.
"But we feel like we’ve run good enough to do it and are continuing to run good. And this is a good stretch of races for us to pull it off."