Erstwhile NASCAR Nextel Cup pace-setter Jeff Gordon has insisted the championship is still wide open heading into the final two meetings on the 2007 calendar, despite losing his lead to team-mate Jimmie Johnson in Texas.

The Hendrick Motorsports ace finished seventh for the second consecutive weekend in the Dickies 500, as Johnson won - also for the second time in a row. With Johnson's late-race pass on Matt Kenseth earning the California native an extra 15 points, the result has seen Gordon's nine-point advantage transform into a 30-point deficit, but he remains adamant there is no cause for panic just yet.

"It was a hard-fought seventh," the four-time Winston Cup Champion stressed afterwards. "I couldn't be more proud of this team and the effort they're putting out there with good communication. We're not getting close enough, though, and we're getting beat. It was a pretty disappointing day.

"We want to be fighting that hard for wins and up there battling in the top three. You've got to take your hat off to Jimmie and those guys - they did an excellent job. They won the race and their pit strategy and car were right where they needed to be.

"We were awesome on Friday; we just never hit it the rest of the way. We thought our qualifying run was going to get us the track position we needed, but we just couldn't maintain it. We got the car really good at the end, but it was too late by then. We just couldn't get it right earlier in the night; we gave it everything we had and I'm pretty proud of the fact we came back to finish seventh. There were several times I thought I was going to be backed into the wall. This is really probably one of my worst tracks - it's just so finicky - so it could have been a lot worse."

Looking ahead now to the final two races at Phoenix and Homestead, Gordon admitted his back was against the wall, but underlined the fact the final outcome would come down to more than just outright pace.

"Thirty [points] isn't much," the 36-year-old asserted. "The biggest thing right now is that we're just getting beaten and those guys are winning races. We're very competitive and we've got to put some pressure back on them and out-perform them. They're doing a great job and you can't take anything away from that.

"Phoenix is a good track for us and we'll go there and fight hard just like we did tonight. I think we might be able to beat them next week if we're just talking sheer performance, but he's (Johnson) pretty tough there too. Homestead? We've been great there and we've been terrible there, so I don't really know. I think the car is capable of doing it; we've just got to get the right set-up that makes me comfortable.

"There's not enough of a point deficit right now for anybody to race other than for a win; nobody is trying to protect points. You've got to be smart at the same time, though. Jimmie is an excellent driver; he's smart and knows what he's doing. If this thing comes down to performance, they've out-performed us. If it comes down to staying out of trouble and being smart, I still think we've got a great shot at it.

"All we can do is go to the next race, hope we can turn it around and get some momentum back on our side. We've got to answer back - that's all there is to it."


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