Jeff Gordon put everyone on notice for Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway: Stay out of his way.
After letting Denny Hamlin pull away in the final half mile of last Sunday’s race at Atlanta without using his bumper, Gordon was kicking himself.
“I’m just mad at myself right now,” Gordon said. “I don’t know, I guess I’m just getting soft in my old age. I’m too nice because, I don’t know, 15 years ago I would have just moved him right up the race track. I don’t know why I didn’t do that.”
The drivers still in contention to win one of two wild card entries into the Chase for the Championship face a desperate challenge at Richmond. In short, if they win, they’re in. What adds to the pressure is it’s the final opportunity to qualify for the playoffs.
“That race is always intense,” Gordon said. “I’ve been a part of it where I’ve either been trying to get in like this or trying to stay in the Chase. There’s so much on the line, trying to win the race. That race is always intense. But when you look at how many guys have to win the points and everything else, I mean, it’s going to be a pretty crazy night.
“We got a lot of pressure on us, so we’re going to be going there guns loaded and ready to do battle. We’re just going to fight all the way to that last lap. Short track is a little bit different than mile-and-a-half. I think everybody expects there to be a little more pushing and shoving on the short track, so that’s definitely going to ramp up the intensity.”
Kasey Kahne has two victories and should lock down one of the two spots. Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman all have one victory and would wrap the final spot with a win. And Carl Edwards has a mathematical chance if he wins his first race of the season.
If none of the contenders win, the highest-ranking driver of the group will make the final cut.
Right now, Busch would be the final qualifier, but Gordon is just 12 points back.
That’s why Gordon has targeted Busch for Richmond.
“We know Kyle is going to be tough there, we know those other guys are going to be tough, but I think we can mix it up with them pretty good,” Gordon said.
“Jeff could give us a run for our money,” Busch said.
The other drivers in the mix know they face difficult odds, but none are willing to give up until the final lap.
“It’s time to bear down and focus,” Ambrose said. “We’ve got momentum; we’ve got confidence. The cars are certainly fast. We can’t do anything different because you can’t do anything more than we’re trying. The thing is, we’ve got a chance.”
“We’ve done it before so we can do it again,” Newman said of winning at the three-quarter-mile raceway.