No matter what happens from here — well, almost no matter — Jeff Gordon is going to feel good about how he finished the year.
He sits fifth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings, 34 points out. With four races left, that’s too far out to be considered a real championship contender.
But considering he wasn’t supposed to be in the Chase at all — put in at the last minute by NASCAR in a make-good move following “Spin-gate” at Richmond — that’s OK. Gordon is making the most of the chance that was almost taken away.
“The emotions are good right now,” he said Tuesday at Texas Motor Speedway, where he and other teams tested this week. “I feel like I’ve put that behind us, what went on at Richmond and that week. I will say that if I go back to that week, man, that was one of the toughest weeks that I’ve been through — everybody around me, my family, my friends, our team, they were all so frustrated with how that whole thing happened.”
Gordon entered the Chase on a hot streak, and except for a 15th-place finish at Loudon and a 14th-place finish at Talladega, he’s been a top-10 driver for eight weeks. He entered the Chase as the 13th seed — awarded an extra spot because NASCAR judged he would have made the Chase properly had the results at Richmond not been manipulated by another team — and got to fourth before falling back to fifth last week.
“Racing has been fun since Chicago,” Gordon said. “And we haven’t had a lot of fun this year – I’ll be honest. We’ve struggled a lot this year. But our team never gave up, they’ve kept working hard. And that’s where I’m at right now. I love this team and love how we’re in synch. It’s just a different attitude as a team when we go to a race track and how we approach things and we’re able to execute a better game plan and practices and throughout the race, as well, because we all believe in one another and things have been going well.”
Gordon has a chance to make a move up the standings this week. Martinsville is one of his best tracks. But it’s also one of the best for leader Jimmie Johnson.
“I feel like we had to get through Kansas, and we got through Kansas very well,” Gordon said, remembering his third-place finish there three weeks ago. “That was one track that was sort of on our list of not-our-best tracks. And I think we all said we’ve got to get through Talladega, and other than a few of us, we all made it through.”
About the only thing Gordon has to feel bad about right now is that he had to get that 13th spot at all. But he is proud of being in the Chase and proud of how it’s gone for him so far.
“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “I know we’re not as high up as we want to be to battle for the championship at this moment, but we’ve had a great Chase, and we’re proud of that. And we think we have some very good tracks coming up for us to close it out.”
Pleasant return: Danica Patrick returns to Martinsville, where in April she made her debut not only as the first woman to run there but with a 12th-place finish, a rookie performance that bested those of some of racing’s top names.
Non-Chasers: The last two victories have gone to non-Chase drivers, Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray. The last time that happened was 2006, when Tony Stewart went back-to-back at Atlanta and Phoenix.
Manufacturers championship: Chevy can clinch its 11th straight title and 37th in all if its top driver is ahead of Toyota’s top driver.
Double chances: Penske Racing is thinking about two championships. Sam Hornish is second in the driver standings, and the No. 22 Ford is second in the owners standings. Hornish trails Austin Dillon by eight points. The No. 22 trails the No. 54 by four points.
New ride: Brendan Gaughan will run a full schedule next year in the No. 62 Chevy for Richard Childress Racing.
Camping World Truck
Victory count: Johnny Sauter, who started the season with wins in the first two races, won last week for his ninth career win. His next win would make him the 14th Truck series driver with double-digit victories.
Points leader: Despite being caught up in a last-lap crash, points leader Matt Crafton finished ninth and increased his lead to 57 over Ty Dillon. Defending champion James Buescher fell to 58 points back.
Chance for four: Sebastian Vettel is going for his fourth consecutive Formula One championship Sunday. He has a 90-point lead with four races to go, so he needs to finish fifth or better.
Consecutive top-10s for a Joe Gibbs Racing driver at Martinsville, including three consecutive wins for Denny Hamlin.
They said it
“When you’ve won a couple, they’re all very different. The first one, I think I was young, just didn’t really understand what I had won. Was the first year in the series with the team. My perspective when I was 22 or 23 of what I actually did to what I understand now is totally different.”
— Scott Dixon, IndyCar Series champion, after winning his third championship last week