JOLIET, Ill. – Ask Jeff Gordon a point-blank question and he’ll give you a point-blank response in return.
When asked the last time he felt as optimistic about his championship chances as he has heading into this season’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, Gordon didn’t hesitate.
“2001,” Gordon said emphatically.
Not surprisingly, 2001 was also the season of Gordon’s fourth and most recent Cup championship.
Since then, Gordon’s “Drive For Five” has gone on for 13 unlucky seasons where he’s fallen short of his goal.
That’s all different in 2014, though.
“I mean, 2004 and 2007 we were pretty good,” Gordon said. “I’ve had years where I’ve felt we’ve had a chance to win, but it’s been a long time since I’ve felt like we were the team to win.”
Gordon has numerous motivating factors channeling his quest for the championship.
Said Gordon, “Not winning a Sprint Cup championship under the new format, not winning a championship since 2001, making the switch over to the new team with Alan (crew chief Alan Gustafson) and the group that he’s put together and wanting to see them win races like the Brickyard 400 and be champions. They’ve been close before with Mark Martin, but there’s things we’re doing together that they’ve never done before.
“And then, the icing on the cake is having my family there. That Brickyard 400 win (in July) will go down as a highlight for me forever. Winning such a big race, getting to kiss the bricks, having them there and to experience what it was like as a family with Ingrid and the kids, it was amazing. The only thing that can top that is doing that as a champion.”
Which leads to the inevitable question posed to him by MotorSportsTalk: If he wins the championship this season, will Gordon go out on top and retire?
“Ha-ha,” Gordon laughed. “I don’t know about that, not unless I pull my back out break dancing on stage for the championship. Nobody would want to break-dance more than me if we won this thing.”
Prior to the season, there were reports that Gordon would retire if he wins the 2014 crown. He said his answer was misunderstood and he clarified the misconception with MST.
“That came from somebody asking me if I won the championship, would I consider retiring?” he said. “Heck yeah, I’d consider it. I’m having too much fun right now, though. My focus is on the championship and winning it.
“When it’s time to go, it’s time to go. But I hope that moment, when it’s time, that it hits me like a break wall and tells me. But I don’t feel like that’s going to be at the end of this season.”
Gordon acknowledges that numerous fans and media have made him a sentimental favorite to win the championship this season.
“Sentimental doesn’t mean anything to me when I’m driving the car,” he said. “It’s great to hear that when you get outside the car, the reaction, the support. That’s wonderful. But for me, it’s just all about what I do behind the wheel, do my job and do it well and have a piece of equipment that I’ve had this year that reacts to the input that I give it and a team that believes in me.”
As for how he handicaps his team’s chances in the Chase, which begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, Gordon said the expanded format – along with the three elimination rounds – actually plays in his favor.
“The third round, you’re going to have to be near-perfect,” he said. “You definitely don’t have to have 10 perfect weeks, not at all. I think the third round and Homestead, you’re going to have to be at your absolute best. The other one’s, you can slip a little hear and there if you’re strong enough to claw yourself back to a decent finish.
“It’s a different championship than what we’ve seen in previous years because of these elimination rounds. … That’s why I like this version (it helps him recover from struggles like he’s had in past Chase’s).
“Chicago’s a great track, Kansas is a great track for us, Martinsville is a great track for us. Those are the first three races of each of those three rounds. I want to win those races and then go to Homestead and try to win the championship.
“We have a lot of tracks that we can be extremely dangerous at, that we can not only win, but also have the consistency to be a strong team to get to Homestead as well. As a team, we have more than one way to get there.”
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