If Jeff Gordon represents any sort of indication, 43 is the new 28.
With a 43rd birthday awaiting Monday, the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has cast aside career obituaries after a glorious rebirth in middle age.
No one has more momentum with six races to go before the Chase for the Sprint Cup after a record fifth Brickyard 400 title Sunday, 20 years after his first.
Retirement talk has been replaced with rediscovery. Unless something unforeseen happens, Gordon — current leader in the Chase standings — will be in the postseason with six bonus points after two victories, including at Kansas in May.
A once unimaginable fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship appears less a real possibility than a good bet on the probability scale.
“My wife and kids, they’ve never experienced” a championship, said Gordon, who last won it all in 2001. “Ingrid has never experienced a championship. I told her, ‘Hey, I know you want to know what it’s like to win a championship. Well, there’s a big commitment that it takes.’
“She’s like, ‘Whatever it takes.’ That’s the kind of year that we’re having. We’re just putting everything we possibly can into it.”
For a guy with 90 career wins — third on the all-time list — over 23 years and more than $141 million in earnings, Gordon is running each week as if he needs to win to feed the family and keep the lights on.
That he remains so hungry is likely helped by being surrounded with such a competitive circle at Hendrick Motorsports. It’s difficult enough to have to beat teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. week to week, much less the field.
Together, Gordon and Johnson have 10 Sprint Cup titles.
He enters this week’s race the Jack Nicklaus of drivers at Pocono with a record six victories and six runners-up.
“I think the thing that we’ve struggled to do over the last few years is have that consistently and have that confidence consistently, not shoot ourselves in the foot,” crew chief Alan Gustafson said.
“I think all the work that we’ve put in, all the work that he’s put in, making it through the difficult times, putting ourselves in position this year, has energized him.”
Of Gustafson, Gordon said: “With Alan, coming so close, winning the championship, the drive that he has, that work ethic that he has, how good the race cars are, I don’t want to be the weak link. So it’s pushed me to give more, do more, work harder.”
Despite being near the top of the standings all season, the Brickyard victory seems to be a game-changer for Gordon and his team. He now is a believer that the No. 24 is the best team in Sprint Cup right now.
“It’s so hard to gain confidence in this series,” Gordon said. “But a Brickyard 400 win, it just doesn’t get any better.
“I don’t know if we believed we were capable of winning this championship this year, truly believed it. We do now.”
Junior’s new guy: Hendrick Motorsports announced on Wednesday that Greg Ives will replace Steve Letarte as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief in 2015. Observers are ecstatic. Ives, crew chief of Nationwide wunderkind Chase Elliott, was race engineer during Jimmie Johnson’s five consecutive Sprint Cup titles.
Slap on the wrist? Penalties assessed under Sprint Cup’s new sanctioning system by all appearances were a death knell to Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team. Hardly. Under the new championship guidelines, Hamlin has essentially clinched a spot in the Chase with a victory and he’ll get crew chief Darian Grubb back for Race 1 of the playoffs.
Penske at the top: The first of four races to end the season brings IndyCar to the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Helio Castroneves has a 13-point lead over teammate Will Power.
By the numbers
27 Consecutive starts at Pocono without a victory for Kevin Harvick, third most to Matt Kenseth’s 29 and Joe Nemechek’s 38. Harvick sits in 12th in the points standings with two wins this season.