Don't count out Gordon just yet

October, 23, 2010

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- The crowd around Jeff Gordon's hauler during Friday's media availability at Martinsville Speedway was sparse.

Most reporters stayed in the media center where Denny Hamlin was discussing Sunday's showdown with Chase leader Jimmie Johnson and how the two have won the past eight races at this paperclip-shaped track.

But Gordon shouldn't be overlooked.

The four-time Sprint Cup champion was about 100 yards from the white flag and a possible victory here in March when one of those infamous mystery cautions came out to force overtime. He's won here seven times, more than any active driver. His driver rating of 123.0 on the half-mile track is second only to Johnson's 123.8.

Hamlin is third at 111.4.

So if you're looking for a spoiler, Gordon is your man.

"We might not have the wins here in recent years like those guys have, but we have been really, really strong," said Gordon, who qualified 11th.

He's not kidding. Gordon has 15 consecutive Martinsville finishes of ninth or better. During the same eight-race span that Johnson and Hamlin have dominated, Gordon's worst finish is fifth and his average finish is 3.5.

He's led 847 laps.

"All we have to do is get a little better and we can pull ourselves right back into Victory Lane here," Gordon said. "Even when we're not winning, we're putting those guys in position not to make mistakes.

"If they make a mistake we're going to be right there and pounce on them, but they haven't made a lot of mistakes over the last few years."

Gordon has gone 60 races without a victory, so a win would help ease the pain of being 156 points behind Johnson in the Chase. As much as he'd like to think he can get back in contention, his championship hopes are all but done.

"Yeah, unless some major things happen, I think we are [done]," Gordon said. "I know it's not something that I'm thinking about. We're approaching the races the same way. It doesn't change how we do that, but I can't say that we've got this weight on our shoulders of the pressure of a championship.

"I feel like in some ways that's been taken off of us, because I think we're too many points back."

Probably. But Martinsville, like Talladega next week, is considered a wild-card race. Because of the tight confines and typical beating and banging, a driver can lose a lot of points in a hurry.

Because only three drivers are between Gordon and first place, Gordon can't completely give up hope.

"He's not out of it because if those three wreck at Talladega, where is he at?" Greg Biffle said. "That's very possible. … Now, if they all run in the top 15 or top 10 at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead, yeah, he's out.

"But next week is gonna determine how far. He's got to gain points next week on at least two of those guys that are furthest ahead of him."

Gordon just wants a win, and Martinsville is the place he could get it. This arguably is his favorite track. It's definitely one of his best tracks.

The thought of coming to this facility in the Virginia hills made forgetting last week's 23rd-place finish at Charlotte after sitting on the pole easier.

"I've been excited about Martinsville for several weeks," Gordon said. "I love this track. We run good here. I guess if we weren't coming to Martinsville it would be a little harder to put a race like Charlotte behind us. I felt like we had an opportunity there to maintain that points gap (85) that we had.

"To lose as many points as we did was certainly no fun, but we moved past it pretty soon, pretty quick."

Don't be surprised to see Gordon move past Hamlin and Johnson for a win on Sunday.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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