Jeff Gordon appears to have caught momentum.
Yet, 2013 seems much like a year ago when the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion didn’t clinch a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth until the final race of the regular season.
Gordon, who ranked 21st in the standings earlier this year, advanced to ninth place with his runner-up finish to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne at Pocono Raceway. Yet his hold on the top 10 is tenuous as 13 points cover eighth (Kahne) and 10th (Greg Biffle).
As he’s battled from behind, the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet has adopted a points-first approach which appears to be paying dividends. But a victory would be nice – especially as multiple drivers battle for top-10 ranking and potential Chase Wild Card status.
This week’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International (ESPN, 1 p.m. ET) plays into the California native’s strengths. It would be no surprise to see Gordon celebrating his 87th Sprint Cup victory.
Gordon is the Sprint Cup’s all-time road racing winner. He’s won nine times overall, four of them coming on The Glen’s seven-turn, 2.45-mile layout. Gordon won three consecutive times in upstate New York (1997-99). Three of his championship seasons have featured a Watkins Glen victory.
Gordon’s current hot streak is reminiscent of past dominance. Will equal a return to road course success?
Gordon won four times and finished among the top 10 in seven of eight seasons between 1994 and 2001, but has a single top 10 in his five most recent Glen starts which includes finishes of 21st, 29th and 37th.
Gordon’s road racing skills haven’t declined. His rivals have closed the performance gap.
“I think the competition has gotten so much stronger at the road courses than it used to be,” he said in Sunday’s post-race interviews. “Where I used to go to the road courses feeling confident that we were going to gain points and have a shot at winning, these days I’ve got to fight hard to get a top 10.”
“But I feel good about our road course program this year. We finished good at Sonoma (second). I felt we learned a lot at the end of the second half of the race at Watkins Glen last year. We kind of more did a test more for Watkins Glen than we did for Sonoma prior to Sonoma so I’m hoping that pays off.”
Gordon would just as soon control his own destiny going to the regular season finale next month at Richmond International Raceway – rather than depend upon what another driver did or didn’t do in 2012.
He’s won multiple races at each of the five remaining tracks comprising the Race to the Chase.
“They’re just good tracks for us and if we can start to put the execution together with the performance, I feel like we have a shot at staying in the top 10,” Gordon said. “The closer we get to Richmond the more aggressive we get. But I also think consistent top fives would do it.
“I think that would get us in. But that’s a lot to ask for.”