WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Including this Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event, only five races remain before the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is set.
For Jeff Gordon at this point of the season, who is “following” him may be more critical than who is ahead. Halfway to the “Chase” after race No. 13 at Kansas Speedway in June, Gordon was 13th in the point standings and 121 markers out of the lead. With a win, two runner-up finishes and seven finishes of 11th or better in the eight races since, the 84- time winner has moved up to seventh and is now 52 points from the top spot.
Maybe more importantly, though, is the fact Gordon is now 50 points ahead of 11th-place – a “cushion” of more than one race – in his attempt to secure one of the coveted “Chase” spots.
“It’s definitely nice to have that gap to 11th,” said Gordon, who celebrated son Leo’s first birthday Tuesday. “It gives us the opportunity to take more calculated risks for a race win. It’s important to stay in the top 10, though, because bonus points for wins are only awarded to those inside the top 10. Any points advantage you can get will be worth it.”
Earlier this year, Gordon finished second at Infineon Raceway – the only other road course on the Sprint Cup Series schedule. But the tracks are polar opposites according to the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion.
“Watkins Glen is a much faster and more aggressive track while [Infineon] is a finesse track,” said Gordon, whose nine career road course victories rank first all-time. “Here, you have to attack the track – without making too many mistakes.
“It’s easy to make mistakes here because you have so many turns and braking zones and obstacles with the down shifts – like wheel hopping in turn one. It’s just really, really difficult to get deep into turn one, not overshoot the corner while also not wheel hopping the rear tires.”
In 18 starts at Watkins Glen, Gordon has four wins, two pole positions, six top-five finishes, nine top-10s and is the all-time lap leader with 227. During the annual visit to the New York track, the plan is to make an impression on and off the track with the DuPont Chevrolet.
“The DuPont Motorsports website is being re-launched on Thursday, and we have some cool things going on with that at Watkins Glen and in the future,” said Gordon, who has two wins in 2011 (Phoenix and Pocono). “I think the fans will really like some of the exclusive content that will be available there.”
While fans will now have access to more content, Gordon is looking for more followers – like 42 of them – come Sunday.