DARLINGTON, S.C. – Jeff Gordon missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup in his final season? The notion seems preposterous.
While it would take events aligning just right – or just wrong in Gordon’s case – it’s possible.
“We definitely feel pressure, and it’s a little bit stressful right now,’’ Gordon said Friday at Darlington Raceway.
He enters Sunday’s Southern 500, which can be seen on NBC, 17 points ahead of Clint Bowyer for the final transfer spot with two races left until the Chase field is set. Bowyer gained 15 points on Gordon at Bristol two weeks ago and has outscored Gordon by 56 points in the last five races.
Gordon understands those questioning him, suggesting that distractions surrounding his final season in Cup have impacted his performance.
He says that’s not so.
“I’ve had far more distractions than I’ve had even this year, and have performed well,’’ Gordon said. “I feel like there have definitely been some distractions this year that maybe would have affected me, but I feel like I’ve addressed them.
“You can’t help when a wheel comes loose or you have some kind of an issue that’s out of your hands. I feel like, the times when I didn’t step up and perform well enough, we didn’t get the most out of that day, but I feel like I’ve been very focused, really.’’
He had brake issues early at Watkins Glen and finished 41st. He wrecked at Indianapolis trying to avoid Bowyer’s spinning car. Gordon’s recent misfortune – average finish of 24.6 in the last five races – has dropped him in the points. Should Gordon fall to 16th, the final transfer spot, on the Chase grid next weekend at Richmond International Raceway and there’s a new winner, Gordon could miss his last chance for a fifth series title.
“We are going to fight hard to be in the Chase, and I think it would be a great way to end my career,’’ he said.
For as dire as things could be for Gordon, he also could leave Darlington clinching a Chase spot with a sixth Southern 500 victory – and first win at this track since 2007.
“I’m pretty happy with the car,’’ Gordon said after the first of two practices Friday. “I think we’ve got a shot at doing that. It’s important for us to execute really well this weekend to put a great result out there on the track to get those points we need to go to Richmond. Other than a win this weekend, Richmond is going to be stressful. But the good news is we have dealt with it before.”
Gordon also admits that even though he’s used to the pressure – from championship battles to race duels – it doesn’t go away.
“There’s always stress and pressure in this sport, certainly with the new Chase format; it’s added to it in a big way,’’ Gordon said. “And we’ve been in a situation before where we’ve gone to Richmond and we had to perform, and I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job with that over the years.
“So, this weekend is not that kind of pressure, but certainly we realize that we’ve got two more races to go and that we’re not in a comfortable enough position to relax. And so, it makes your job a little bit more difficult. But I feel like we’re a team that can handle that.”