For years, Jeff Gordon has said he’d rather win a championship than a single race.
The driver made that claim Wednesday during an open test day at Phoenix International Raceway.
“If we go out like (Ryan) Newman did last year and get it to Homestead and complete the cycle and win a championship without any wins, I would be very content with that,” Gordon said.
There are six races left in Gordon’s 23rd and final season as a Sprint Cup driver and the most recent of his 92 wins came last year at Dover International Speedway.
Yet entering the middle race of the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Gordon is seventh in the Chase standings, two points above the cut line to advance to round three.
Despite not being winless in 2015, Gordon made the Chase with Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. With one top 10 and three top 15 finishes, he advanced with Earnhardt to the second round.
Through four Chase races Gordon is the only Hendrick driver to complete every lap, avoiding the mechanical issues of Johnson and the fuel issues and accidents of Earnhardt and Kasey Kahne.
“I think right now we’re performing at a really high level as far as how we are executing races, and that’s what we were wanted to do earlier in the year,” Gordon said. “Now we are putting the consistency and good finishes together, and now we have to get to some tracks that we can win at and step up and get our performance better.”
Fortunately, the No. 24 team returns to two tracks in the coming weeks where it has had recent success. The first is Kansas Speedway, where Gordon claimed one of his four wins in 2014 and his third win overall at the 1.5-mile track. In the May 9 race, Gordon finished fourth, one of three top-five finishes through 30 races.
Then comes the 2.66-mile elephant in the room: Talladega Superspeedway.
“This is a tough round, there’s a lot at stake, especially this upcoming week in Kansas because we all know what Talladega can bring,” Gordon said, alluding to the enormous multicar wrecks that can happen in an instant. “I’m probably looking at Talladega slightly different this year than I have in the past just because of the laps that we’ve led there and in Daytona and how strong our cars are on the superspeedways.
Of the three poles Gordon has earned this year, two were at restrictor-plate tracks: the Daytona 500 and the May 3 race at Talladega. He led 87 and 47 laps in each before accidents and pit-road penalties kept him from contending for the win.
But even with Talladega looming, Gordon feels good about his chances of advancing without a win at Kansas.
“I feel like our team has really stepped up since the Chase has started, improving the cars, improving the performance, improving really in all areas,” Gordon said. “It’s nice to know that when everything is at stake for the championship, that the team is performing at their best.”
But Gordon knows his team has lacked the speed that race winners Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Joe Gibbs Racing have had. Gordon said his team endured a setback aerodynamically when the series used the low-downforce package at Darlington and Kentucky.
That led to the No. 24 team “hanging tough and really grinding” in order to advance. Without a win, Gordon will have to be the best at that if he hopes to mimic the 2014 accomplishment of Newman — winless but still eligible for the championship in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.