Three. It doesn’t seem like a big number, yet it is a significant one for Jeff Gordon.

In a fierce battle with Joey Logano over the course of the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Gordon was able to take the checkered flag for the third time in the 2014 season. Leading 69 of the 200 laps, he tied his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. with three wins each through 23 races.

With the victory, Gordon retakes the lead in the championship standings – giving him the top seed in the Chase for the Sprint Cup as long as Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. or Brad Keselowski do not score more wins than he does until Richmond. This is the first time since 2011 that Gordon has scored three victories in a season, and the last time he won more than three races in a single year was back in 2007, where he fell just short of winning his fifth title.

“It’s never easy to win at any of these tracks, especially when aerodynamics and track position mean so much,” Gordon said. “I thought we learned a lot the last time we were here on track position. Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) just called a perfect race. I kept getting on that inside lane and just not getting very good restarts. I knew it was going to get exciting with Kurt (Busch) and Joey (Logano). Those two are very, very aggressive; and of course Kurt got loose.”

“I didn’t have any trouble with my car sticking all day and I could be really aggressive with the car through the corners. But, the No. 24 and the No. 22 kind of got jammed up a little bit there and I was able to get a good run. The No. 22 tried to move up, but I was going to stay in the throttle one way or the other. We don’t have anything to lose at this point and that was our only chance to have a win.”

Logano led a race-high 86 laps on Sunday afternoon, but he just didn’t have enough for Gordon on the final restart. After debris was found in Turn 2 from Kurt Busch’s car, the caution flag flew with approximately 20 laps to go. The No. 22 car had a comfortable gap over Gordon’s Chevrolet, but he just couldn’t hold on during the restart. Kevin Harvick was able to get by Logano to finish in the runner-up position; scoring his fifth runner-up finish of the year.

Johnson had a roller coaster day in his No. 48 car. His crew had to hand him vice grip in the middle of a green-flag pit stop due to a problem with his shifter. As he drove his vehicle back on track, he attempted to put the grip on his shifter, but that didn’t work to the team’s planning. During a caution several laps later, a crew member was able to put it in his car, but at that point – Johnson was a lap down. He was able to come back to finish in the ninth position, albeit he did have a run in with Ryan Newman following the race.

Paul Menard finished the 400-mile event in the fourth position. He finished in the same position in the race at Michigan earlier this year; his best result of the season. Greg Biffle was able to capture a top-10 finish on Sunday afternoon. He was the strongest of the Roush Fenway Racing cars during the event. With an eighth-place finish, Biffle recorded his eighth top 10 of the year and is now in position to make the Chase.

Kyle Busch had trouble at Michigan; marking the third straight week he finished 39th or worse. On Lap 4, Busch hit the wall hard and was forced to go to the garage area. However, even with the poor finish, he clinched a spot in the Chase.

Following the competition caution, Danica Patrick got loose in Turn 2. Patrick spun underneath her teammate Jeff Burton. Trevor Bayne, Michael Annett, Matt Kenseth, Justin Allgaier and Martin Truex Jr. were each involved in the incident. On Lap 97, Kyle Larson blew a tire after running strong early in the race. Larson fell back outside of the top-20, but was making his way back towards the front of the field. However, when his car hit the wall, the No. 42 Chevrolet caught on fire. This was the first time in the Sprint Cup Series that an incident like this has occurred with the new policy that was announced on Friday morning. He was enabled to exit the car immediately, but did so extremely carefully. 

The No. 24 Chevrolet might not have been in Victory Lane on Sunday afternoon, yet Jeff Gordon set two more career milestones.

Just past the halfway mark of the GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway, the 42-year-old became the first driver to lead 1,000 or more laps at the ‘Tricky Triangle.’ Moreover, Gordon also set a personal milestone in the midst of Sunday’s race. After his first personal triumph on the day, he passed 24,000 laps led in his entire NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. 

“We had the dominant car, but you had to have track position and you know, there at the end we didn’t have it,” Gordon said. “I think if we had started outside lanes there at the end we would have had it. My restarts weren’t terrible today, they weren’t bad when we were on the outside and we could make up some spots.”

“Unfortunately on those last couple ones, we were on the inside. But with Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) getting out in front of us there through that pit sequence, there was nothing we could do. He was really good. Whoever got out front, him or me, was going to win this race.  I am still really happy with the way our car performed today.  It’s just so awesome and encouraging and has got my confidence sky high and I just can’t wait to get to the next race.”

Over the past few years, the four-time champion has experienced back problems on multiple occasions. However, it is not slowing him down. When it has been extremely bad, Gordon has had a driver on stand-by, but he has never had to use one.

“I don’t think my back is ever going to be the same after what happened at Charlotte. I don’t know what exactly transpired there, but it’s not the same. And I have to be much more careful. I’m just having to treat it more with ice and stem and be more careful and do more stretching. Is it going to flare-up again? It could. But I’m just trying to be more cautious with the things that I do that I feel like contribute to that. But, yeah, it’s not great, that’s for sure,” he said in a press conference on Friday.

After winning his 90th career race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend, Gordon led 63 of the 160 laps at Pocono Raceway on Sunday afternoon. With the championship lead and a pair of wins – he is on pace to be a serious contender for the 2015 crown.

As he moves forward, the driver of the No. 24 car is going to be very careful with his back. More importantly, however, he is spending time with his family. As he looks to strengthen his relationship with his children and wife, racing will end up taking the back seat sooner or later.

The Chase for the Sprint Cup is approaching. Jimmie Johnson, the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, is searching for consistency.

Johnson is coming off of three straight rough races. After recording back-to-back 42nd-place finishes, the No. 48 team finished 14th at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However, it is not the first time that the Hendrick Motorsports crew has struggled at this point in the season. Entering the Chase last year, Johnson had three consecutive events of 28th or worse – spanning from Bristol until Richmond. In the past, the same thing has happened to the team nearly every year.

“It’s no secret that the middle portion of the year has always been a challenge for the No. 48 team. At the start of the season and end of the season – a lot of those tracks are the same venues that we go to. The Chase era has been an advantage for us. The summer stretch has just been tough for us – it always has been. There have been years where we make it through similar than others, but this year – we have been as inconsistent as any other performance,” Johnson said on Friday morning.

“We want to stop that and start here with a very smooth weekend and successful weekend, and carry on to the Glen. Bristol is out there. That is a tough track for us. There are still a few challenges ahead, but literally – when the Chase starts – we roll into our 10 best tracks. We’ll try to maintain sanity until then. Obviously, we have to keep progressing our cars.”

The No. 48 Chevrolet has been known to have a rough stretch during the summer months, yet this year seems to be more consistent than year’s past. Through 20 events, his average finish is 13.9. Although that ranks sixth in the Cup Series, it is below his career-worst average finish of 13.6 in his rookie season back in 2002.

Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus, is attempting to lead the team back to championship form. But before they do that – the inconsistency must dissolve. The team has 12 top-10s this year, but six finishes of 23rd or worse.                                                                                

“We are not running as well as we need to.  I think everybody knows that.  We have had some struggles this year.  We’ve won a few races, which is great.  But on a consistent level we are not as fast as what we want to be.  Quite honestly I don’t think anybody is,” Knaus said.

 “Well nothing matters leading into the Chase, it’s what happens once you get into the Chase obviously.  Look momentum is a great thing.  We all understand that. Momentum on your side is always good; it’s always good to have the sun on your face and the wind in your sails.  Let’s be honest because everyone is always happier.  But the fact of the matter is you can overcome anything if you have the right tools.  That is what we are fighting for right now to make sure that when we show up in Chicago, Loudon and all those races that we have the proper race cars.”

 

It’s been since August 8, 2004. The journey to return back to Victory Lane at the most famous track in motorsports history has finally concluded for one Indiana man.

20 years ago, Jeff Gordon took his rainbow-soaked No. 24 Chevrolet to the winner’s circle at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for NASCAR’s inaugural race at the speedway.  On Sunday afternoon, Gordon drove his No. 24 Chevrolet back to Victory Lane at the yard of bricks for the fifth time in the 21st running of the Brickyard 400.

Scoring his 90th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, Gordon tied Formula 1 driver, Michael Schumacher, for the most wins at Indianapolis with five triumphs. His last Brickyard 400 victory came in 2004 where he dominated the race – holding off Dale Jarrett to get his fourth win at the track.

“This team came prepared. That was an awesome Axalta Chevy SS, and we had so much support. With five (laps) to go I was trying to look up in the grandstands, but it is the biggest race in my opinion. I know the Daytona 500 is a big race, but to me personally, this race means so much because of the fans. Because of the history of this track, but I couldn't help it,” he said on his historic victory.

Although he did not lead the most laps, the 42-year-old arguably had the fastest car throughout the 400-mile event. In the 21st running of this event, Gordon had to pass his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne, for on a late-race restart after the caution came out for Ryan Truex – who was off the pace on the apron of the race track. During the restart, Gordon passed Kahne on the high line, and set sail after that.

“I’m not very good on restarts and wasn’t very good today. I finally made the restart of my life today when it counted most. I knew we had a great race car. We just needed to get out front. Kasey (Kahne) kind of hung back and I kind of got a little ahead of him and I had to back up and was able to stay on his quarter panel and once we got down into (Turns) 1 and 2, I could hear him get loose. I was kind of glad he took the inside because I really wanted the outside,” Gordon said after the race.

Kahne dropped to the fifth position after getting passed by the three Joe Gibbs Racing cars, and then Joey Logano took a top-five away from the man that led a race-high 70 laps.  

“I think we finished where we deserved to finish, we just need more speed in our car.”  A GOOD RUN.  “That’s about what we ran all day is where we finished.  The guys did a good job.  We got this thing better from the way we unloaded.  We weren’t very good to start off this weekend, but every time we went out for practice or went on the race track we got a little bit better – through practice, through qualifying and even the race,” Logano said.

Kyle Busch used pit strategy to his advantage to come home in the second position, yet slipped over two seconds behind Gordon after the restart. This was Busch’s second runner-up finish at Indianapolis in two of the last three races at the 2.5-mile circuit. Throughout the day, he was racing outside of the top-10, but came on strong as his team took advantage of the multiple green-flag pit stops which took place in the first half of the race.

Busch was followed by his JGR teammates, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth – providing a solid day for the Toyota organization. However, since Toyota entered the Sprint Cup Series in 2007, they have yet to record a victory at Indianapolis.

During the race, there was talk of rain in the area. Following the competition caution on Lap 20, multiple drivers were reporting rain in certain areas on the track. However, after a few minutes of drizzling on the speedway, the rain diffused and the drivers were able to focus on the racing. But because of the speculation that rain was surrounding the track, there were several different strategies on the day – providing an added level of excitement for a race that many presumed would be the polar opposite.

Entering the Brickyard 400, pole sitter Kevin Harvick was labeled as the favorite to win the event. Moreover, after starting out the race with the lead, he was passed by Gordon after the two roared by the start/finish line to begin the second lap of the day. Harvick led 12 laps in Sunday’s spectacle, and sits 12th in points after finishing in the eighth position at Indianapolis.

Here are some notables from the Brickyard 400:  

-          Austin Dillon earned his third top-10 finish of 2014. This is Dillon’s first career top-10 at a non-restrictor plate track in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition. He currently holds the final spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup as he sits 14th in points.

-          Jimmie Johnson came home in the 14th spot after coming off of back-to-back 42nd-place finishes.

-          Carl Edwards finished 15th in the Brickyard 400. Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing owner Jack Roush announced on Sunday morning that they will be parting ways at the conclusion of the season.

-          A.J. Allmendinger finished 17th on Sunday. Allmendinger struggled with the handling on his No. 47 Chevrolet. He started the race in the 36th position, and steadily worked his way through the field. With his top-20 finish, Allmendinger gained three spots in the standings and sits 23rd in points.

-          Juan Pablo Montoya earned a 23rd-place finish in his return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a stock car. Montoya won at Pocono Raceway a few weeks ago in the Verizon IndyCar Series while driving for Team Penske. This was his second of a pair of scheduled starts at NASCAR’s top-tier division for the 2014 season. He currently sits fifth in the IndyCar Series standings.

-          Danica Patrick was racing inside of the top-15 when she broke the right rear axle on her No. 10 Chevrolet. Patrick finished in the 42nd position after bringing her car into Gasoline Alley following a burst of smoke billowing out from her car on pit road.

-          Trevor Bayne finished 43rd for the first time in his young career. During the same announcement about Edwards departing RFR, Roush stated his faith in Bayne piloting the No. 6 Ford on a full-time basis in 2015 with funding from Advocare – his sponsor in the Nationwide Series. 

After 19 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, we have gotten past the half-way mark in this exciting 2014 season. Thus far, there have been 11 different winners.

Yeah. 11. How crazy is that?

Well, now we have officially entered the latter half of a season that will entail a new championship format. No one really knows what to expect, yet it will truly be as exciting as possible. We have seen some crazy races this year, and each one has provided controversy in some way, shape or form. With that being said, here are our mid-season report card grades:

Hendrick Motorsports: A/A- The team has been exceptional this season with a pair of wins by Dale Earnhardt Jr., three by Jimmie Johnson and one with Jeff Gordon. However, Kasey Kahne has had his fair share of struggles, which is why they are on the border of receiving an A.

Joe Gibbs Racing: B+/B Gibbs does have a pair of victories in 2014, but they don’t seem to be on track to have the success that they had last year. Although Kyle Busch is eighth in points, he has just eight top-10s. Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin has seven. Kenseth is still the highest-ranked driver in the top Toyota organization after finishing second to Johnson in 2013, but qualifying has become a problem for the entire team and has truly put them behind come race day. However, they always rebound rather nicely.

Team Penske: A Penske has rebounded nicely after missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup with Brad Keselowski last season. Winning two of the past three races, the team’s stock has sky rocketed. Keselowski currently sits third in points, but more importantly – he has led more laps half-way through 2014 than he has in any one season throughout his career (previous high was 735 in 2012). Joey Logano has also been hot this year as he is inside of the top-10 in points with a pair of victories. Like Keselowski, Logano has already lead more laps this year than any other season in his young career.

Roush Fenway Racing: C+ Besides a pair of victories from Carl Edwards, not much has gone right for this team. It is well known by now that they just haven’t adjusted to the new rules package very well, but they are slowly moving into the right direction. The intermediate tracks have plagued all three of their drivers this year, and the race at Michigan was probably the worst you will ever see out of this organization. As time moves forward, judgment day is coming on whether or not Edwards will stay at RFR. Once that is out of the clear, maybe, just maybe – the other two drivers in the camp will have more of a focus on contending for wins than ever before.

Richard Petty Motorsports: C+ RPM has had a roller coaster season. Rumors have swirled around the garage on whether or not Marcos Ambrose will return to the team next year. However, he might not considering he has struggled mightily this year. He has just four top-10s this year and sits 20th in points with an average finish worse than 18th. Meanwhile, with Aric Almirola’s Daytona win, the team does have some positives. Almirola has run strong on the intermediate tracks this year, and could be a contender for a top-10 spot in points.

Richard Childress Racing: B RCR has run well this year, but not well enough. They have been a model for consistency as they are seldom outside of the top-15. Ryan Newman has begun to run better with RCR, but hasn’t been in contention for race wins. Paul Menard has been the organization’s best driver with nine top-10s already this season, and is currently in position to make the Chase as he is 11th in points. Austin Dillon has had an up and down year, but he is still developing at NASCAR’s top level. This team has a great deal of potential after having a quiet, yet steady first half to the year.

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates: B- Ganassi’s team has made incredibly large strides this year. The addition of Keith Rodden as Jamie McMurray’s crew chief was exactly what this Chevrolet team needed. McMurray is 21st in points, but his results don’t show how strong he has been in 2014. When he hasn’t been involved in an accident or had mechanical issues, there has not been a single race where the No. 1 car has finished worse than 17th.  Kyle Larson is on pace to win the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors for this team, but he will need to stay at his current pace after a third-place finish at Loudon. He showed weaknesses over the past few weeks, and he can’t have that as he sits 14th in points, right near Dillon.

Stewart Haas Racing: B+/B If this team wouldn’t have such bad luck, they would easily have an A. Kevin Harvick has been one of, if not the quickest car on a weekly basis. Although he has the speed to contend for wins, Harvick’s results don’t show that, along with his teammates. Kurt Busch currently sits 25th in points with a win. Fortunately for him, he hasn’t finished worse than 18th since Dover – enabling him to slowly work his way back up in points after struggling in his first two-three months with the team. Tony Stewart has been a model of inconsistency. He is 19th in points, but has shown moments of brilliance such as at Pocono in June. The entire team needs to become more consistent, and they have the pieces to do so.

Michael Waltrip Racing: B- MWR is lacking speed this season. Brian Vickers has adjusted nicely as the driver of the No. 55 Toyota, but the team just doesn’t have the speed to contend for wins. Vickers and Clint Bowyer have each run inside of the top-15 on a weekly basis, and they have more than five top-10s each, yet they just haven’t been able to seal the deal. The team isn’t horrific by any means necessary. However, after shrinking down from three to two full-time cars this year, MWR hasn’t done as well as they believed. If they can turn the corner just a drop, both of their vehicles should make the Chase.

Furniture Row Racing: C Martin Truex Jr. has struggled in his first year with this team. They have had some really strong runs, and they are slowly leaning in the right direction. The biggest problem for the No. 78 team has been sealing the deal. Once they can do that, they will have more than just three top-10s in 19 races.

JTG Daugherty Racing: C+ Since the team has an alliance with RCR, their expectations have been raised. A.J. Allmendinger has done well for this team. However, they were on an eight race drought in which they couldn’t finish in side of the top-20. Sitting 25th in points with Ku. Busch, Allmendinger has some work to do. With Watkins Glen coming up, that could be the No. 47 team’s only shot to make the Chase.  

HScott Motorsports: C-/D+ Since Harry Scott Jr. bought this team, there have been some growing pains. The short tracks have always been Justin Allgaier’s strong suit, but this year – that is about their only chance to run inside of the top-10. His best track in the Nationwide Series was Chicagoland, and he might have a top-10 finish there if the team can stay on the lead lap – something they have done just five times this season.

Front Row Motorsports: C- As expected, this team has struggled a lot with the new rules package. However, the pole at Daytona for David Gilliland marked the first in the team’s history – showing signs that they aren’t too far behind on the plate tracks. Moreover, the company just needs to finish races considering both drivers are outside of the top-30 in points.

Germain Racing: C Casey Mears has done a good job growing with this team. When they don’t have trouble, the No. 13 car is nearly always inside of the top-25. They are exactly where they were at this point last year, but they have more promise with the RCR alliance just like JTG.

Tommy Baldwin Racing: C- TBR has struggled this year. Reed Sorenson is running his first full season in the Cup Series since 2009, and he is 35th in points. He’s been plagued by mechanical issues all year, and when he hasn’t – the No. 36 car is running outside of the top-30. Meanwhile, Michael Annett is 30th in points. Annett has potential to run inside of the top-25 on a weekly basis, and he might be able to do just that in the second half of the year. However, with a few top-20 finishes, Annett is the only thing that has saved this team from getting a grade in the D range.

Phil Parsons Racing: C/C- Even though the team missed Phoenix, they have done a lot better than anyone would have thought coming into this year. Going from a team that primarily start and parks to running every week is extremely difficult, and they have done a good job at adjusting to the ups and downs of racing all the time. A lot of people took notice to Josh Wise at Bristol when he just refused to go a lap down, and ever since – the team’s popularity has sky rocketed with the Reddit/Dogecoin deal. However, they still need a lot of sponsorship if they want to be better than a team that barely enters the top-30 on a weekly basis.

BK Racing: C-/D+ Cole Whitt has been a leader for this team since he moved over from Swan Racing – finishing inside of the top-30 in nine of the last 11 events. However, Ryan Truex has missed three races, and his best finish this year is 30th. His results have been extremely rough, but there might be light at the end of the tunnel for him as the team looks to regroup with an off weekend. Alex Bowman, another rookie driver for the team, has done slightly better than Truex. He has made every race, and he has been able to run inside of the top-30 every now and then.

Go FAS Racing: D The team has done well at the plate tracks with Terry Labonte. However, everything else has been a struggle. Travis Kvapil is their primary driver, and he has run inside of the top-30 just once in a dozen races this year. They have a few chances to do decent, including Watkins Glen with Boris Said and Talladega in October with Labonte, but everything else depends on sponsorship dollars.

Circle Sport Racing/Hillman Racing: D+ Landon Cassill has done well for the team in the No. 40 car. They have had their struggles, but they have seven finishes inside of the top-30. However, since Kansas – their best finish was 31st at Daytona. The team’s second car, the No. 33, has been switching back and forth with different drivers. It has run a lot worse than the No. 40 car, and it shows.