Jeff Gordon high on confidence going into Brickyard 400

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At the conclusion of Jeff Gordon’s press conference this morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indy mayor Greg Ballard read a proclamation that declared Sunday, July 27, 2014 – the day of this year’s Brickyard 400 – as “Jeff Gordon Day” in the city.

“I just hope my competitors are respectful of this, and on Sunday, they’ll just sort of move out of the way,” quipped Gordon, the four-time Brickyard champ and current Sprint Cup points leader.

Joking aside, Gordon feels like he has his best opportunity at becoming the first five-time winner in a stock car at IMS in a while.

“There’s no doubt that this is the best chance that we’ve had at winning this race legitimately, with the speed of the car, as we’ve had in a very long time,” said Gordon, who’s celebrating the 20th anniversary of his victory in the inaugural Brickyard back in 1994.

“It’s obvious that there’s some competitors out there that are going to be tough, including our teammates. But I think the preparation that we’ve put into it and what we’ve been working on since the break – prior, leading into that really – we’re really excited about seeing what we have here today and this weekend.

“From an overall strength of the team and speed of the cars, this is by far the best chance we’ve had of winning in a long time.”

Gordon is also enjoying the fact that he isn’t having to deal with the pressure of having to scrap for a Chase spot like he’s had over the last couple of years.

In 2012, Gordon had to rally from one lap down in the regular season finale at Richmond before he made it into the Chase with a second-place finish.

Then in 2013, he initially missed the post-season only to be added in as a 13th driver in the wake of NASCAR’s penalties against Michael Waltrip Racing following Richmond.

Before getting his playoff reprieve from Brian France, Gordon and his No. 24 team went through multiple bouts of inconsistency in the 2013 regular season.

But in 2014, Gordon’s been running like clockwork with a Chase-clinching win at Kansas, 13 Top-10s, and an average finish of 9.6. He says that the team’s been doing a great job of putting themselves in strong positions throughout the race weekends, but also feels that they need to improve further.

“I’ve always said that you make your own luck, and I think that we’re doing that this year,” he said. “We’re running up front, we’re qualifying up front, we’re making smart decisions, and we’ve got good race cars.

“It’s great to be in this position but we also look at our competitors and we know we haven’t won the most races and we need to win more, so we’re taking what we’ve done so far and looking at the positives and how good it is, and we’re enjoying that.

“But we’re also working really, really hard because we want to be the best out there. And I feel like even though we’re leading the points with this new system, we’ve got to be better than this if we’re going to win the championship.”

Gordon also received one more item this morning from IMS president J. Douglas Boles – the No. 24 placard from the track’s second-generation scoring pylon that was taken down recently (a new video pylon has since been installed).

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Credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway/NASCAR

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.