Jeff Gordon is fresh off his first Sprint Cup Series victory of the season and next up is the road course at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International – one of his most successful tracks.
Or is it?
For a great deal of Gordon’s NASCAR career, he was known as the series’ road warrior, racking up victories at the Glen and the road course in Sonoma, Calif.
That was then.
Gordon does have four wins at Watkins Glen, but his last came in 2001. In fact, in the 10 races since his last victory, he only has two top-10 finishes and a best finish of ninth in 2007.
Where did all that mojo go?
“We have not run very well at Watkins Glen in recent years and it’s been very disappointing to me and the team,” Gordon said. “It was not from lack of effort. we’ve just not had the set-up and grip that we’ve needed at that track.”
Gordon saw improvements this season at Sonoma, where he started second and finished sixth – his seventh consecutive top-10 at that track.
“Sonoma is not Watkins Glen, so I’m optimistic. I think we’ve made improvement, but we won’t really know until we get there,” Gordon said. “I hope the things that we’ve learned we can apply there and see the results.
“I always love going to the road courses and Watkins Glen is always one of my favorites. You’ve got to attack the race track in the braking zones and the car has got to be there for you and stick.
“If it’s not, it makes for a long day.”
To be honest, after finally cracking Victory Lane this season, Gordon would look forward to going just about anywhere.
He and his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team have had speed this season, but they have dealt with a variety of problems, from pit road to incidents on the track.
With no victories and outside the top 10 in the series standings Gordon’s only hope to make the Chase would be through a wild-card. But time was running out to earn them.
“I always felt like we could do it. Yeah, it looked bleak,” said crew chief Alan Gustafson. “I can remember we were 25th or 26th in points. When you’re in that position with Jeff Gordon as a driver, it’s not a good feeling.
“But I knew the performance of our car, as far as sheer speed, this may be one of the best years of my career. The speeds of the cars have been fantastic and Jeff has been great. I knew the key ingredients were there.”
Gordon’s victory Sunday at Pocono (Pa.) put him – for the time being – into one of the wild-card spots.
He also knows there remains much work to do.
“In my opinion, this only puts more pressure on us over these next several weeks, but we’re ready for the challenge,” Gordon said.
“I think with all we’ve been through this year, if we can get to Victory Lane and get some things to go our way, this team, because of what we’ve been through, that we’ve stayed together, haven’t pointed fingers – it will make you stronger.
“I think we’re really fired up for the next race, and the coming weeks, to legitimately have a come-from-behind season and get ourselves in the Chase.”