When he turned 40, someone must have given Jeff Gordon a bottle of water from the Fountain of Youth. In the 6 races he’s run since his August 4 birthday, Wonder Boy has picked up career victory number 85, finished top ten in all but one race, and he is well poised to pick up that that elusive fifth NASCAR Cup championship.
He may have come up just a wee bit short in his bid to win the final race before the Chase Saturday night (third), but make no mistake that no one has been more consistent. In his last ten races, Gordon has an average finish of 6.1, better than any driver in the Chase, even better Brad Keselowski’s 9.1 in the same span, or Jimmie Johnson’s 10.0, or the 10.1 of Kyle Busch. “We've got an awesome race team right now. I'm extremely excited.” says the four-time champion.
Momentum going in to the Chase is huge and Gordon’s got it. “To run the way we have and just gain the momentum, have a shot at winning that race tonight, man, this team could not be more pumped and excited about getting this Chase started next week, and Chicago is a great track for us. So look forward to the next ten weeks.” Gordon adds “We're competing with everybody out there right now, and lately I feel like we've been better than most on a lot of different types of racetracks, short tracks, superspeedways, intermediates.”
Make no mistake, he will have to hold off a bevy of tough competition to grab that first title since 2001. Kevin Harvick has shaken off a tough summer with his win at Richmond, Kyle Busch seems to be gaining a maturity to match his talent, Brad Keselowski has been running hot, and then there’s ol’ “Five Time” himself, who seems to have more lives than an ally cat this time of year. That’s to say nothing of the capabilities of Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman; any of whom can strike and sustain it for a 10 race run.
There were those starting to write Gordon off after he came up just short against Jimmie Johnson in 2007, and went completely winless in 2008. After collecting just one win between the 2009 and 2010 seasons, team owner Rick Hendrick replaced crew chief Steve Letarte with former Mark Martin pit boss Alan Gustafson, and the combination has been money. Suddenly, those near misses have turned to wins.
Gordon’s confidence is the likes of which his fans have not seen in some time. “There's not one track in these ten, next ten weeks, that scares me, because I think that we just really have done a great job dissecting down our issues and addressing them and making our cars better as we go to those tracks.” If attitude indeed determines altitude, then come Homestead, Jeff Gordon will be flying high.
Other articles by Jim McCoy include:
Cool, Quiet Kenseth is the Stealth Candidate
Keselowski: Winning Races, Winning Fans
Forget History, Kyle's In Championship Form