You can choose to believe or not believe Jeff Gordon when he said this week he is happy with the way his team is performing these days and he still has a decent shot at winning this season's Sprint Cup championship.
But you had better believe Gordon when he says Sunday's Price Chopper 400 at Kansas Speedway is the key to everything for him and his team. Short term and, perhaps, long term.
“All we can do is just go try to turn things around this weekend in Kansas,” Gordon said. “And we know that if those guys continue the way that they are, we have got to win to gain points on them.”
'Those guys' would be the seven drivers - four in particular - who will arrive at Kansas Speedway this weekend ahead of him in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The best of those guys, Mark Martin, is 122 points ahead of Gordon. Second-place Jimmie Johnson is a sizable 112 points ahead of Gordon. Third- and fourth-place drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Kurt Busch are 57 and 47 points ahead of him, respectively.
With Kansas and then seven more races to go in the Chase, yes, Gordon absolutely had better win Sunday to keep hopes for a fifth series championship in tact.
Can he get that victory?
That very question, in fact, was asked of him by a fan right off the bat during a teleconference this week.
Gordon thanked the fan for his question - The Question - and then said: “We haven't had the best start (to the Chase) especially compared to our teammates (Martin and Johnson). But this last week in Dover was certainly a good performance. We didn't get the finish we were hoping for, but I feel in Kansas, we are capable, very capable, of getting that win that we need to really move ourselves up to where we need to be to battle for this championship. So hopefully we can pull that off.”
Gordon has history to serve as a foundation of his hopes. He is the only driver to win more than once at the 1.5-mile tri-oval, winning the first two races in 2001 and 2002.
But those victories came when the Cup series ran the cars of yesterday. It was before the Chase format was introduced, and it was when Gordon was at least decent when it came to racing on intermediate tracks.
Gordon has not won a championship since the Chase was introduced in 2004. Of his 82 career victories, only seven have come in the new racecar. And at 1½-mile tracks, Gordon has won just three times in the Chase era - at Chicagoland in 2006, at Lowe's in 2007 and at Texas in April.
“I think our chances are really good,” he said of Kansas. “I've been really excited about the mile-and-a-halfs in the final 10 races in the Chase. I feel like that's something that we have really done a great job with improving from last season, and I feel like that's where this championship can really get turned around for us.”
by Jim Pedley