Jeff Gordon gave himself both an early birthday and going away present Sunday: a third-place finish in the Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway.
Not only does Gordon turn 44 on Tuesday, Sunday was also his 46th and final career Cup race at Pocono, where he remains the all-time winningest driver (six wins) in the series.
“I thought we were trying to get maybe 10th or 12th and all of a sudden they said you’re third, and I think I was probably the most shocked person out there on the race track when I found that out,” Gordon said. “I knew cars were peeling off (running out of fuel), but I just didn’t realize that many were either running out or coming to pit road.”
While Gordon entered Sunday’s race with moderate expectations, it was a nice turnaround after finishing a season-worst 42nd last week at Indianapolis.
“The script I had played out in my head was we were going to be 15th, so this one was way better than that,” Gordon said. “Today finally one went our way for a change, which is really nice to bounce back after last week’s unfortunate incident where we lost so many points.
“Sometimes you need just something to pull you through it, and last week got us down quite a bit. This is definitely going to lift us back up. I think it’s not about carrying momentum, it’s about getting momentum, and I think this is the beginning of hopefully what can get us the momentum we need to get where we need to.”
With Sunday’s showing, Gordon tied his season-best performance (was also third at Bristol in spring). It was also the third top-five and 12th top-10 in his final season as a Sprint Cup driver.
While it was Gordon’s 32nd career top-10 finish at the Tricky Triangle, more importantly, he climbed back into 10th place in the Sprint Cup standings with five races remaining to make the Chase For the Sprint Cup.
“I think as a team, even though we’re not performing to the level we want to, we are performing well enough to make it into the Chase,” Gordon said. “… We’re not in a safe position. We’re going to be fighting for every position.”
And do everything to avoid a similar fate as he suffered at Indianapolis.
“You can’t afford to have many 42nd‑place finishes, that could be disastrous,” Gordon said. “There are no guarantees, and so you’ve got to gain all the points you can when you have the opportunity.
“We had that opportunity today; we did it. This more helps make up a little bit for what we lost last week, but we can’t afford to let that happen again.
“… Hopefully we can just continue to make gains and get ourselves in the Chase, and we’ve seen in the past where anything can happen when that Chase starts, but you’ve got to be in it first, and we’re going to try to secure our way in there over the next few races.”