CHARLOTTE, N.C. — If nothing else this season, Jeff Gordon has proved to be a man of his word.
He promised to grow back the cheesy mustache he sported at the start of his career if he made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, and made good on it after squeaking past Kyle Busch to get into the 12-driver field. Now, he’s promised to breakdance in Victory Lane if he wins this weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
He hasn’t won at Charlotte since 2007. But don’t rule out seeing the 41-year-old Gordon bust out a windmill or the worm on Saturday night.
Gordon is on an absolute tear of late, notching six top-three finishes in the past seven races. The lone blemish is a big one, though: A stuck throttle in the Chase opener at Chicago caused a crash and a 35th-place finish.
He followed that with a third-place at New Hampshire and runner-up finishes at Dover and Talladega. But he is still just sixth in the Chase standings and trails leader Brad Keselowski by 42 points. Gordon admitted after Sunday’s finish that he is frustrated at how hard it’s been to climb through the standings.
He remains confident his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team can get back in the hunt.
“We can sit there and really get mad about what happened in Chicago, but the reality of it is all we can do is go each and every week and keep trying to put ourselves in position to win and get top-fives,” he said. “It is certainly not over yet. So we’ll see what happens. If we keep doing this, I really think we might have a shot at it.”
Charlotte is a good track for Gordon to make up some ground. He’s a five-time winner at Charlotte, the “home track” for Hendrick Motorsports and the place Gordon’s team owner considers a high priority.
The 1.5-mile track has been good to the four-time NASCAR champion, and was the site of his first career pole in 1993 and his first Cup victory the following year. Gordon suffered a long drought at Charlotte from 2000 to 2007, when he won the Chase race that fall to stay even with teammate Jimmie Johnson in the championship battle.
Gordon suffered through a mini-slump with three consecutive finishes in the 20s, but snapped it in May with a strong run in the Coca-Cola 600.
He started 23rd, worked his way into the top 10, then fell back to 25th around the halfway point because of a caution. Gordon then rallied over the second half of the race to finish seventh. Teammate Kasey Kahne picked up the win.
“We were really good early in that race, and twice we had to come up through the field,” said Gordon.
Gordon believes the strength his team showed in the May race and the improvement of crew chief Alan Gustafson’s cars over the course of the season has him in position for a strong run Saturday night.
“I think we can be even stronger this weekend because our setups are better now,” he said. “I am really looking forward to this weekend’s race – this is as excited as I’ve been heading into Charlotte in quite a while. We had a good car here earlier this year and we’ve had some strong runs recently. We just need to continue to run in the top five and be in position to battle for the win at the end of the race.”
But it still may not be enough to close any ground on the championship leaders. It’s taken Gordon three strong finishes to move from 12th in the standings to sixth, and his biggest jump came Sunday after Talladega, when he gained four spots.
The competition in front of him is tough.
Keselowski has two Chase wins and was fifth at Charlotte in May. Johnson is a six-time Charlotte winner who made the track his personal playground from 2003-06. Denny Hamlin is winless at Charlotte, but has seven top-10s in 14 career starts.
And Kahne, who shares a shop at Hendrick Motorsports with Gordon, ranks among the top active drivers at Charlotte over the past 10 races. He’s won there four times, too.
Gordon, though, is only focused on what he alone can do on the track.
“We’ve finally been getting the finishes to match the strong runs we’ve had during races this year,” said Gordon. “If we continue to do that, we’ll continue to move up in the standings.”