Jeff Gordon: “I’m still as passionate and as excited as ever”

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The running joke in 2013 for Jeff Gordon was, of course, his 11th-hour addition to the 2013 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup as a 13th driver on Friday the 13th of September.

In 2014, he hopes the narrative shifts to where his performance level doesn’t require an unprecedented act from NASCAR to get him into the championship-deciding 10-race stretch.

Gordon appears refreshed and rejuvenated after an offseason that included a trip to France with his family, and still motivated by the desire to return to championship-winning form. He expanded on all this in an interview with NASCAR.com.

Put simply, though, he still feels he’s got as much vigor and strength to go to the track, run hard and run competitively.

“When I get to the track, I’m still as passionate and as excited, if not more so, than I’ve ever been,” he said.

Gordon said he and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team, led by crew chief Alan Gustafson, need to eliminate the slow starts. Last year he had only two top-10 finishes in the first 10 races, as well as two-sub-30th place results. In 2012, there were only two top-10s in 11 races, with four finishes of 33rd or worse.

Simply speaking, more consistency early in the year will place him in a better position of not needing to play catch-up when the summer stretch starts and the push to the Chase begins.

Gordon has three Daytona 500 victories (1997, 1999, 2005) and seeks to add a fourth next month.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”