LOUDON, N.H. – The mustache is gone from Jeff Gordon’s face. Now he hopes his bad luck goes with it.
After trying to re-kindle some racing magic from his early, more productive years, Gordon brought a clean-cut look – and a fast race car – for Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
His No. 24 AARP Chevrolet won the pole Friday afternoon, and in the process gave the four-time NASCAR champion hope he can cut a big portion of his 47-point deficit.
“This is a big one … and certainly good timing,” Gordon said.
Gordon, who qualified at 134.911 mph, is last of the 12 drivers in the Chase for the Championship. And since there’s a 47-point difference between the most possible points and dead-last, he faces a difficult task to get back into the championship picture.
Even with the most improbable circumstances, he knows he won’t be able to erase the shortfall created a week earlier. But he can chip away at it.
“It’s not going to happen over one race; it’s going to happen over nine races,” Gordon said. “We’re going to fight. We’re going to be aggressive.
“It’s not that we’re out of it by any means, we know we have a lot of work to do, but we can certainly win this thing.”
Kyle Busch, who is not in the Chase, will start second on Sunday (1 p.m., ESPN) after a fast lap of 134.753 mph, while defending series champion Tony Stewart is third at 134.568.
The rest of the top-10 are: Brian Vickers in fourth, Carl Edwards in fifth, Kasey Kahne in sixth, Paul Menard in seventh, Ryan Newman in eighth, Martin Truex Jr. in ninth and Dave Blaney in 10th.
Blaney filled in for Sam Hornish Jr. in the No. 22 Dodge Friday while Hornish was at the Kentucky Speedway for a Nationwide Series race. Once Hornish returns on Sunday, his car will fall to 42 on the starting grid.
Points leader Brad Keselowski will start 15th.
Like everyone else, Gordon had a hard time getting his car to stick in the fourth turn. But unlike everyone else, he was able to wrestle it back into control.
“The car did everything I wanted it to do,” he said. “I knew I got through (Turns) 1 and 2 really good. It was a little tight in 4, but it stuck enough. I knew it was going to be good.
“Qualifying up front, we’ve got a good starting spot. We’re going to fight hard to keep it.”
After that, Gordon believed his biggest threat was Denny Hamlin. He was the fastest in practice leading up to qualifying, but his team put the wrong air pressure in his tires and he slipped back to a 32nd-place starting spot.
A week earlier, Hamlin lost a top-five finish on the final lap when his car ran out of gas.
“Holy cow, I knew something was wrong,” Hamlin said. “The car was bobbing down real bad. It’s a simple mistake.”
Gordon hoped a mustache last week would bring back memories of his first couple championships. It didn’t take long for him to change his mind.
“I did the mustache because somebody said, ‘Hey, bring back the mustache.’ I said, ‘Well, if we make the Chase then I’ll bring it back.’ So I brought it back and then with the way that it went last week I was like, ‘OK, I’m done with the mustache.’ I just changed my mind,” he said.
“It wasn’t hard to take it off, I can promise you that.”
SILLY SEASON: Now that Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano officially will be changing teams next year, there are only a few open seats remaining.
Regan Smith said he may be out in the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet in 2013, likely replaced by Kurt Busch.
Smith told reporters he doesn’t believe he will return next year. Busch said he’s talked with Furniture Row, but he said he’s talked to several teams about next year.
Richard Petty Motorsports hasn’t signed their drivers and some believe Aric Almirola could be forced out of the No. 43 ride. Busch is considered a candidate for that job, too.