NASCAR icon Jeff Gordon flying under the radar in his final Chase

Jeff Gordon is perfectly content to be under the championship radar.

If the competition doesn’t consider the four-time champion to be a threat, that’s just fine with him. 

Making it to the Final Four

Teamwork — and an average finish of ninth — has carried Gordon to the Eliminator Round. He is also the only driver in the final eight without a win. If the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team stays the course, Gordon sees no obstacles standing between him and the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

I just don’t see him going to Homestead and being able to beat (Harvick), (Logano) right now … If it turns into more of a circus at Homestead, then possibly, he’s got a good shot at it. I think all of us do.

Kyle Busch on Jeff Gordon’s chances to win the championship

“This team, we never stop fighting and grinding and that’s what we’ve had to do,” Gordon said. “Now, we’re just in that mode. That’s just what we do. We seem to do a good job at being consistent and getting the best finish. We’ve certainly been doing that in the Chase. 

“If we do that for the next three weeks, I think we make it to Homestead.”

Pushing forward

Gordon is picking up steam at just the right time. Although the Chase forecast for the No. 24 squad was never bleak, Gordon certainly hasn’t been the contender he was last year. In 2015, he remains winless and has led the fewest laps since his rookie season. 

 I can’t imagine it. That’s why I haven’t allowed myself to really go there … We’ve not been the dominant cars and team. I hope after this round that changes

Jeff Gordon on the possibility of winning the title

But Gordon claims the adversity he’s faced this season has made the team stronger. He credits the crew with raising its game by improving the cars and the belief he has in crew chief Alan Gustafon for persevering during the playoffs.

“That’s why we’re one of the strongest teams that exists out there,” Gordon said. “Even though we’re not maybe bringing the fastest racecars to some of these mile-and-a-half tracks, I think we’re one of the strongest teams when it comes to sticking together, fighting through adversity and executing to a high level.”

Kyle Busch doubts Gordon can go head-to-head with Logano, Harvick

Kyle Busch isn’t convinced that will be enough for Gordon to make it to the final four. Although Busch grew up a Gordon fan — and still believes, “Jeff’s a smart guy, he’s a good racer, he’s been around for a long time and knows how to make this part of the season go his way,” he doesn’t see his former teammate on par with Joey Logano or Kevin Harvick. 

“I don’t see Jeff Gordon winning it this year,” Busch said. “I just don’t see him going to Homestead and being able to beat the 4 (Harvick), the 22 (Logano) right now – straight race to do that, to beat them, I don’t see that. 

“If it turns into more of a circus at Homestead, then possibly, he’s got a good shot at it. I think all of us do.”

Just the facts

Realistically, Gordon considered the No. 24 team to be an underdog prior to this round.

However, when it comes down to experience and results at the next three tracks, it would be hard to bet against Gordon — particularly this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, where he is tied with teammate Jimmie Johnson for the most wins (8) and enjoys an average finish of 6.9 in 45 career starts. His average finish of 7.2 is also a series best. 

“We have not shown the strength that other teams have that are still in this thing,” Gordon said.  “We’ve not been the dominant cars and team. I hope after this round that changes.  

“But I think if we can run strong at Martinsville, and we run strong at Texas, we make it through this round, I think people will think different.” 

He could go all the way

Yes, it’s been 14 years since Gordon’s last Cup championship. He has not won a title since Johnson joined Hendrick Motorsports or since NASCAR introduced the Chase for the Sprint Cup. 

And while it might have been beneficial having teammates in the Chase to help his cause, it certainly doesn’t hurt pooling the resources of a 12-time championship organization behind him. 

Considering Gordon’s contribution to Hendrick Motorsports over the last two decades, it’s understandable the company wants to see its driver go out on top. 

As of now, Gordon has not contemplated the rush of winning the title in his final year.

“I can’t imagine it,” Gordon said. “That’s why I haven’t allowed myself to really go there.  One, there’s too much racing left to happen. Can’t help but give you a smile on your face that we made it further than maybe we even anticipated. It gives you that feeling that, ‘Hey, maybe this could be our year.’

“I can’t talk about it now because I think we just have too much work ahead of us.”

Although Gordon is confident he can go the distance, he’s not ready to make an early call.

“There’s not one of these eight teams and drivers in this round that don’t feel like they can do it,” Gordon added. “We’ve eliminated eight. When you get down to this point, I think that everybody feels like, ‘Hey, this is our year, this is our moment, and we have the team and the drive to do it.’ 

“So, yeah, absolutely we feel like we can.  If we’ve made it this far, who knows what we can do.” 

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