Jeff Gordon’s final restrictor-plate race could salvage his championship hopes and alter the Chase.
Nowhere has the four-time series champion been stronger this season than restrictor-plate races. Should he advance, the third round opens at Martinsville Speedway, a track Gordon has won at more than any other Sprint Cup track.
“I’ve been saying all year long that if we can make it to round three, I think our chances of making it to Homestead are actually very, very good,’’ said Gordon, who is winless in his last 38 Sprint Cup starts. “Not because we’ve been running spectacularly, it’s because Martinsville is on the schedule.
“Martinsville is a track I feel like we can always go to, no matter what, and have a shot at winning that race.”
If he advanced to the third round, a victory at Martinsville would transfer Gordon to the final round at Homestead-Miami Speedway regardless of how he performs at Texas and Phoenix. Last year, he missed advancing to the championship round at Homestead by one point.
Gordon heads into Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway – which will cut the Chase field from 12 to eight drivers – sixth in the standings.
No Chase driver is safe – other than Joey Logano, whose wins in the second round send him to the next round. Last year, Kyle Busch entered this elimination race second in the points, crashed and missed the cut.
Handling issues at Charlotte and Kansas have challenged Gordon in this second round and put him in this spot.
He said after finishing 10th at Kansas that he ran “absolutely horrible. We were absolutely as far off as you could be. I thought we actually had our car pretty decent by the end of that race (at Charlotte), but we never had it good (at Kansas).’’
This weekend at Talladega could change everything.
Gordon has led more laps in the three restrictor-plate races this season (134) than he has in the other races combined (75).
While he hasn’t had the finishes to match those performances at the plate tracks, he’s clearly had one of the best cars. He was collected in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500 and finished 33rd. A speeding penalty on the final pit stop at Talladega put Gordon back in the field and he was caught in a last-lap crash, finishing 31st in the spring. He was sixth at Daytona in July.
Speeding penalties have been an issue for Gordon. A speeding penalty at Martinsville in the spring cost him the lead with less than 40 laps to go. He finished ninth. A speeding penalty cost him the lead early in the Martinsville Chase race last year. He finished second to Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Yet, he could change the topic of conversation the next two weeks. Instead of looking back at what he hasn’t done or the struggles with his car, the focus could be on what’s ahead at Homestead if he can transfer after Talladega and win at Martinsville.