It is pretty simple, really. Win and Jeff Gordon is in.
Heading into race No. 26 at Richmond International Raceway, Gordon is 11th in the point standings, six markers behind 10th. Following Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400, the top 10 in the standings plus two wildcard spots - based on most wins for drivers ranked 11th through 20th - will comprise the 2013 "Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup" field. There are numerous scenarios where Gordon earns a berth, but a victory guarantees at least a wildcard spot.
"Winning is our goal this weekend - it's what we want to do every weekend," said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet. "Through practice, during qualifying and during the race, we're doing every thing we possibly can to win.
"I've said all along that I think [Chase berths] will come down to the last lap at Richmond, and we're going to battle all the way to that checkered flag to try and earn one of those spots."
Last year, Gordon entered this race facing a similar challenge - down double the amount of points (12) and needing to erase that deficit to secure the final wildcard spot. After starting second and leading a lap early, Gordon struggled with the handling on his No. 24 Chevrolet and was nearly two laps down with just over 150 laps remaining in the 400-lap event. But Gordon continued to battle and he earned the "free pass" onto the lead lap (awarded to the highest positioned driver scored one or more laps down when a caution flag waves) at lap 275. Less than 40 laps later, Gordon was solidly in the top five and, when all was said and done, the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion had secured a hard-earned runner-up finish and the final berth in the 2012 "Chase."
"We missed it early (in the race) last year, but we were able to make some good changes and the car came to life," said Gordon. "This year, I'm hoping we'll be strong from the drop of the green flag all the way to the checkered flag."
In 41 starts at the three-quarter-mile track, Gordon has two wins, five poles, 16 top-fives and 25 top-10's. He also has led 1,415 laps - the most among active drivers. Gordon is hoping a test here a few weeks ago can help improve those numbers.
"We were much better the second day of the test, but we still have a weekend full of hard work ahead of us," said Gordon. "We must focus on our team and getting the most out of the Drive To End Hunger Chevy SS Saturday night and see how things work out after the race ends. Hopefully, we've done enough to earn our spot in this year's title race."
A victory Saturday night ensures that.