Motorsports Insider: Gordon finding a groove again, and some confidence

Posted Wednesday, Oct. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
More information Series updates Sprint Cup No. 500: Dale Earnhardt Jr. will become the 34th driver to make 500 Cup starts. He has 19 wins, 111 top-5s, 199 top-10s and 13 poles. Cup debut: Kyle Larson will make his Cup debut on Saturday night, driving the No. 51 Chevy. Jimmy Elledge will be his crew chief. Nationwide Back in front: Austin Dillon, with his sixth-place finish at Kansas last week, has the No. 3 car in the series lead. The last time the No. 3 led the series this late was 1999 with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Logano in: Joey Logano takes his turn in the No. 22 for Penske Racing this weekend, replacing Brad Keselowski. The 22 is trying to win an owner’s title, but its lead went from 28 to five points last week after Keselowski’s crash with Kyle Busch. Camping World Truck Back in action: The series resumes Saturday at Talladega after a two-week break. Matt Crafton leads by 41 points. IndyCar Championship scenario: Scott Dixon, who swept the doubleheader at Houston last week, can clinch the IndyCar Series championship by finishing fifth next weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Substitute driver: Alex Tagliani will replace Dario Franchitti in the season finale. Franchitti is recovering in a Houston hospital after he was injured in a violent crash Sunday. 33 Wins for Scott Dixon in the IndyCar Series, most of any active driver. NHRA In the lead: John Force in Funny Cars and Jeg Coughlin in Pro Stock took over the points leads with victories last week. For Force, it is back-to-back victories. They said it “I know those guys in the top three definitely are mindful of every lap they run and try to avoid disaster and any kind of setback. I don’t have to worry about that so much. I just kind of get to throw it all out there.” — Dale Earnhardt Jr., who began the Chase with a 35th-place finish at Chicago

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Very delicately, a question was put to Jeff Gordon after his third-place finish at Kansas last week.

“It’s like you’re far more enthusiastic than you’ve been over the last couple of years. … Are you?”

Gordon took the hint.

He knew what the question was about.

He’s been in a dry spell for a while. He got into the Chase last year by a whisker, and this year was granted a spot after “Spingate.” Last year, he was 10th in the standings and never a threat.

But now, after back-to-back top-5s, he sits in fourth place, 32 points behind the leader, Matt Kenseth. That’s still a ways back. But it’s closer than he was at this point in 2012 or 2011.

“Oh, yeah. It’s not this year, though,” he said. “Earlier this year, I was probably as frustrated as I’ve ever been in a race car.”

The last three seasons have seemed to run together for Gordon. He’s been one of the 15 or 20 best drivers. He’s won a little. He’s made the Chase. But this is a four-time champion. Being in the upper half, winning a little and making the Chase does not exactly make a good year.

“Last year was tough enough, and then this year, I thought that we’d gotten all that out of our system and we didn’t seem to have,” Gordon said. “But I’ll tell you what, we never stopped working and trying to get the cars to suit my liking. And when the cars are solid and giving me good feedback and I can get aggressive with it, then my confidence goes up.”

Gordon began posting top-10s a month before the Chase. He is on a consistent, confidence-building stretch.

“The confidence and how you feel about it is all in the performance of the car,” he said. “And it’s a team effort. You know, I feel like I’m as responsible for that as anybody else on the team. And I take it hard just like everybody else on the team.

“I’m just proud of how we fought through a lot of the things we’ve gone through this year, and now when it matters most, we’re making the best of it.”

Open testing

Series leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson will be among the drivers testing at Texas Motor Speedway next week in three days of sessions free and open to the public.

Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing will bring their drivers in for the tests Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The track will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, with parking in the VIP/PSL lot outside Gate 4. The concession stands will be closed, so the track is encouraging fans to bring their own refreshments.

Nine of the 13 Chase drivers will be testing, including JGR’s Kenseth and Kyle Busch, Hendricks’ Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne and Roush’s Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards.

Richard Childress Racing, with Kevin Harvick, will test at TMS on Oct. 22. It will also be open to the public.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407 Twitter: @calexmendez

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