When Jeff Gordon scored the victory at Martinsville Speedway a couple of weekends ago, the first words that came out of his mouth – “We’re going to Homestead!”
In the midst of his final season behind the wheel of the famed No. 24 Axaltra/AARP Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports, Gordon enters this weekend with a shot to have the perfect fairytale ending to his career with a championship. The discussion this weekend certainly surrounds that very topic in whether Gordon can beat Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. to complete the season. It’s certainly something that not only has Gordon excited, but also each of the team members on the team. It also makes up for the season that he had up until the Chase, as well.
Gordon admitted on Thursday during Chase Media Day that he was disappointed with their season up until the Chase, not having the performance he wanted. In the first 26 races this season, Gordon failed to reach victory lane while posting five top-fives and 12 top-10 finishes. As a matter of fact, the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization struggled, only reaching victory lane once (Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Daytona) from the beginning of July to the middle of September. Through that time, Gordon says they never gave up, doing whatever they could to improve the team, cars, and his communication with crew chief Alan Gustafson. Luckily for Gordon, everything fell in place as the Chase started at Chicagoland Speedway.
“I started seeing pieces fall together that really showed the strength of our race team, and then, of course, we kicked it off with a really fast car and solid run at Chicago, and that gave us all confidence in what we were bringing to the racetrack,” he commented. “And at the same time what we’ve done very well most of the year is bring that car home in the position that it needs to be. We’ve been very consistent, we just haven’t been as fast as what we need to be. That’s steadily been improving, and the execution and consistency has stayed there throughout the whole Chase.”
Gordon says there wasn’t one thing that caused the turnaround, but rather a bunch of small pieces all put together. He credits Gustafson for being an excellent leader as a crew chief in keeping the team together while staying committed to improving things. The improvement brought forth the chance, and now the victory at Martinsville brings forth a bigger chance. Though in bigger ways, the victory presented Gordon an advantage as he went through Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway of the third round without worrying.
“I think it was definitely an advantage for us, and it’s one that we needed because we’ve been behind,” he said. “What we were able to do was take a car out of rotation that was going to go to Texas and look at what our competitors are doing, and we’re analyzing things all the time from our competitors to try to figure out where we’re getting beat. We’re also looking internally at what we can do to just make everything better and faster, and so that was a nice luxury to be able to have a nice position to be in because we needed it. And now I can honestly say that I feel like we’ve improved our chances on Sunday because of it.”
Now with all the pieces together, Gordon enters Sunday’s event with a one-in-four-shot at the championship, a race that he is entering with an open-mind.
“I never go into a race with an absolute solid game plan, this is how it’s going to go down, I’m going to run this lane and then I’m going to do this,” he commented. “I go into it with working on everything I possibly can with the team to give them the most information I can, to drive the car the best I can, to communicate with them, and then they do their job, and on race day, they drop the green flag and I take it lap by lap, and that’s how I do every race. It’s no different.”
While the championship will mark the center of discussion, this weekend marks a milestone in series history for many fans. Gordon is considered as one of the most influential, star drivers and for many, it’ll be a sad sight when he retires following Sunday’s checkered flag. That’s something that Gordon isn’t focused on, though, as he says that hasn’t sunk in yet – but rather staying focused on the main goal ahead with the race.
Perhaps he can repeat past Homestead-Miami Speedway magic as he was able to find his way to victory lane in Miami in 2012, and make the checkered flag the perfect Cinderella story.