Gordon Relaxed as He Fights for Chase Spot
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on September 6, 2013 | 3:24 P.M. EST
Gordon was fastest in the final practice session. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
RICHMOND, Va. - Six points out of a Chase spot, one race left, Jeff Gordon is relaxed.
“We were in a tougher spot last year,’’ he said.
Gordon entered Richmond 12 points behind Kyle Busch for the final Wild Card spot a year ago. The odds favored Busch, who had scored seven consecutive top-10 finishes, including four wins, there before that September night. When Gordon fell a lap down during that race, it appeared he would miss the Chase for the second time in his career.
Gordon’s luck changed after a rain delay, and he rallied to finish second, while Busch placed 16th - his worst finish at Richmond since 2007. Gordon made the Chase, Busch didn’t.
A six-point deficit to Kyle’s older brother, Kurt, doesn’t seem so bad.
“I know that our team has been in this situation and knows how to fight and overcome this type of adversity,’’ Gordon said.
They were good in Friday’s first practice session. Gordon was fifth quickest in that session, while Kurt Busch was sixth. Gordon was then fastest in Friday's final practice session.
Unless the four-time champion wins Saturday night - he has not won at Richmond since 2000 - he’ll have to make the Chase by climbing into the top 10 in points. Gordon and Kurt Busch could make for an interesting duel for the final automatic spot to the Chase.
Busch has had the advantage with faster cars more often, but Gordon’s pit crew has been better.
Greg Biffle also is a target for Gordon. Biffle is ninth in the standings, 14 points ahead of Gordon. Biffle was 38th quickest in the first practice session.
That Gordon is this situation a second year in a row is because of an inconsistent season. Only once has he scored three consecutive top-10 finishes this season. The 17 laps he led last weekend at Atlanta nearly equaled how many laps he’s led (18) in the eight previous races.
“Gordon is going through a tough time in his career personally,’’ Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip said. “I think he doubts himself, and while that won’t necessarily make a driver run badly, it affects the race team. They feel it, see it and hear it. Brad (Keselowski) and Jeff have imploded more than anything else.”
Told of Waltrip’s comments, Gordon said: “That’s no revelation.
“I've admitted there's been times when I've lacked in confidence when qualifying poorly. I've lacked in confidence many times throughout my career, but that's because the car speaks to you. If you go through, let's say three weeks in a row, where the car is not speaking to you, you're not getting the speed out of it, things aren't going well, I question everything. I question our setups, I question my driving, I'll question tires, engines, everything. That's just normal for me, and I would say most people.
“When that green flag drops, if that car sticks in turns, stops, then there's nobody that's going to have more confidence than me. Same with my team.’’
Even so, Gordon still might need help Saturday night from his teammates. Jimmie Johnson has clinched a Chase spot but another win would ensure he’d start the points tied for first. Kasey Kahne has clinched a Wild Card spot, but if he climb into the top 10 in points, he’ll get the bonus points for his two wins and that could prove valuable. Dale Earnhardt Jr. needs to finish 32nd or better to clinch a spot. They might be able to help him. Then again, they might not be able to help because of what they face.
“From my point of view, it would be hard for me to understand exactly what I could do to help one of my teammates,’’ Earnhardt said. “The crew chiefs can see the picture a lot clearer than the driver can. I want to help my teammates. I want my teammates to be into the Chase.’’
“We're in a unique situation where we all have something on the line,’’ he said. “I mean, it's forcing us really to just go out and race as hard as we can and all get the best finishes.’’
Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” – will have live coverage of Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 from Richmond International Raceway at 6:30 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MotorRacingNetwork.com.