Entering Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon is only 84 markers behind NASCAR Sprint Cup leader Tony Stewart but, with ten races remaining before the twelve-driver Chase for the Championship field is set, he is nervously eyeing the gap to the drivers in ninth and eleventh.
Gordon currently holds a 366-point advantage over 13th place, so his place in the elite field should be secure barring a nightmare middle of the season, but, while his first priority is to secure a berth in the Chase, he is also keeping tabs on bonus points.
Following round 26, points will be reset for the twelve participating drivers, with ten bonus points awarded for each win accrued to that point. Kyle Busch and Gordon's
Hendrick Motorsport team-mate Mark Martin have each collected a series-high three wins so far this season, but currently lie ninth and eleventh in the points respectively. Although both are precariously close to the bubble – less than 50 points separate ninth from 13th - Gordon is keen to give himself the best chance of matching them in the bonus stakes should they all make the 'post-season'.
“Our goal is to make it into the Chase,” Gordon emphasised, having picked up one race win so far in 2009, “but you can't help but keep an eye on the bonus points. Right now, I know we're 20 points behind those with three wins, so I'd like to cut – or possibly eliminate – that gap before the Chase begins.
“Over the next ten races, we're looking to build momentum. You want to enter the Chase with the competition believing you are the team to beat. A win this weekend
can do a lot for a team and a driver - the ten bonus points are important, but the first race of the Chase is back here, and it's a confidence boost when you return as the track's previous race winner.”
In 28 starts at the New England speedway, Gordon has three wins and three poles among a dozen top five finishes but, while he had a pair of second-place finishes here in 2007, strong runs in 2008 are not underlined by an eleventh-place finish in June and 14th in September.
“We drove up into the top five in June here last year, but a late pit-stop and rain hurt our finishing position,” he recalled, referring to a pit-stop for fuel that was followed closely by rain that ended the race prematurely, “In September, we lost about ten positions late when I had to slow to avoid a spinning car.”
But that was not the last time Team DuPont visited the 1.058-mile facility.
“We participated in a Goodyear tyre test here in April, although I don't know how beneficial that was,” explained crew chief Steve Letarte, “It was 31 or 32 degrees then, and those conditions are much different than what I expect we'll see this weekend.
“We've had some good runs here recently, and I hope that continues this weekend. It's been a while since Jeff has been to Victory Lane at this track, and I'd like to change that. And sooner rather than later.”