LONG POND, Pa. – “I’m going to be 40, but I’m not in the rocking chair yet.”
Far from it. Jeff Gordon, who turns 40 on Aug. 4, uttered those words at Pocono Raceway in June after his 84th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. He entered that event at The Tricky Triangle 13th in the point standings and 121 markers out of the lead. One win (Pocono), two runner-up finishes (Infineon and last weekend at Indianapolis) and six finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races has moved the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion up to seventh in the standings – only 52 points out of the lead. To put that in perspective, that gain of 69 points on the lead equates to making up nearly 300 points under the old points system.
“We are building ourselves up so that we are strong when the Chase comes around,” said the driver of the No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet. “We didn’t win (at Indianapolis) on Sunday, but that was a complete team effort. We had a fast race car, we were solid on pit road and (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) called a great race. We need to do that every week, especially when the Chase starts.
“If we compete like that, we can win just about any place we go.”
Next on the docket is Sunday’s race at Pocono. In 37 starts at the 2.5-mile track, Gordon has five wins (tied with Bill Elliott for most all-time), 17 top-five finishes and 26 top-10s. He has led the most laps at the triangular track, and Gordon is 43 laps shy of reaching the 1,000 laps led plateau.
“This is a great track and I love racing here,” Gordon said. “Track position is important, though, and it’s a tough place to get it.
“In Turn 1, you have some options and, in Turn 3, you have a few options. But you have no options through the Tunnel (turn). “It’s just one groove through there.”
Gordon is not the only No. 24 team member with a birthday this week. Crew chief Alan Gustafson’s is the day after Gordon’s, and the pair are working toward a celebration at the awards banquet later this year.
“I think we made a statement with our run at Indy on Sunday,” Gordon said. “This team is for real. While we didn’t win, I think it showed we are a championship-caliber team. It took Alan and I a little while to get to know one another and for us to understand the communication needed so that I get what I need in the car. We want to be a championship-caliber team when the Chase comes around.
“I think we’re very close.”