Confident Gordon marches on to Martinsville

NASCAR Wire Service Friday, Oct 24 1424

Claiming his last couple laps at Talladega were the most nerve-racking of his life, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon survived the unpredictable Alabama track to move on to the eight-driver Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and continue his drive for five titles.

“It goes to show just how intense this is and how much this format has changed your mindset,” said Gordon, a 23-year NSCS veteran with 757 starts to his credit. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous through a race weekend than this past weekend. I’m kind of glad we experienced that. I’m glad we survived it.”

This weekend, the 43-year-old travels to a more welcoming site in the hunt for his elusive fifth title – Martinsville Speedway. Gordon, along with the other seven remaining Chase contenders – Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin - will be on equal ground as their points were reset to 4,000 following Talladega. A first-place finish in any of the next three races would automatically advance a member of the Eliminator 8 to the Championship Round race at Homestead.

Piloting the No. 24 AARP Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, Gordon will go for his ninth victory at the .526-mile oval in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 (1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN). He currently ranks tied with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for its wins lead among active drivers.

“My goal this whole year when I knew we had fast race cars and a shot at the championship was to get through this last (Contender) Round and to make it through to this (Eliminator) Round,” Gordon said. “This to me is where we’re going to shine. There’s such a very realistic chance for us to not only win a couple of these races coming up, but seriously get ourselves to Homestead with a real shot at winning this thing.”

At Martinsville, Gordon will have to contend with fellow championship-qualifying driver and track ace Hamlin. The No. 11 FedEx Toyota pilot boasts four wins at the Virginia track and claims the third-best average running position (9.0) and driver rating (109.6) there. He stated during Eliminator Media Day he would pick either Martinsville or Homestead to run “one race, heads-up for the championship.”

“It’s a huge opportunity for us,” Hamlin said. “As average as our team has been in general this year, when we go into a short track where horsepower doesn’t matter, aero doesn’t matter – and it’s about the driver and mechanical setups – I feel like those are our strong suits.”