Jeff Gordon: 2014 is best shot at Sprint Cup crown since his last in 2001

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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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Kyle Larson wins third consecutive High Limit Sprint race at Eagle Raceway, Rico Abreu second again

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It took four attempts for Kyle Larson to win his first High Limit Sprint Car Series race in the series he co-owns with brother-in-law Brad Sweet, but once he found victory lane, he has been undefeated with his win at Eagle (Nebraska) Raceway. For the second week, Abreu led early only to fall prey to Larson.

The win was Larson’s third straight victory and the fifth consecutive top-five, giving him a perfect sweep of the season after finishing 10th in last year’s inaugural race at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana.

Larson started third behind Abreu and Brent Marks but was embroiled in a fierce battle with Anthony Macri for third during the first dozen laps. Larson slipped by Macri in traffic until a red flag waved for a flip by Lachlan McHugh.

Meanwhile at the front of the pack, Marks retook the lead from Abreu on Lap 18. Larson followed one lap later and then caution waved again. Tyler Courtney lost power and fell to 24th after starting eighth.

Marks scooted away on the restart but tragedy struck in Lap 26. Leading the race, Marks hit a pothole in Turn 1, bicycled and then flipped, handing the lead to Larson.

Abreu caught Larson again during the final laps and in a reprise of their battle at Tri-City Speedway, the two threw sliders at one another for several laps until Larson built some separation and ran away to the checkers.

“I didn’t feel like my pace in [Turns] 1 & 2 slowed down a ton,” Larson said from victory lane. “I missed it once there and then I saw his nose in 3 & 4. I didn’t know if he nailed the bottom that well behind me and I think he might have slid me in the next corner, so he was definitely on the top.

“I was nervous to move up there because my car was really pogoing up in the entry of 1. I got up just in time, made a few mistakes and he threw a couple more sliders at me but he was just a little too far back and I was able to squirt around him. Then I really had to commit to hitting my marks – back my effort down a bit to avoid mistakes.”

After leading early, Abreu fell back as far as sixth, but faith in his car kept hope alive.

“I just needed to do a few things a few laps before I did and fix some angles, then my car got a whole lot better,” Abreu said. “I’m thankful for this team; they do an amazing job. They don’t give up on me. I know my car is going to be there right at the end of these races, so it’s just the discipline of being patient.”

For Abreu, it was his third near-miss this season. He was leading at Lakeside in the 2023 opener until a tire went flat in the closing laps and he lost the lead to Larson late in the Tri-City Speedway race. Abreu has finished sixth or better in his last three High Limit races with each result being progressively better until his pair of runner-up results.

Third-place finisher Scelzi was the hard charger, advancing from 17th.

“I had a very specific plan; don’t go near [the hole in Turn 1],” Scelzi said. “It worked out. No one wanted to start on the top. I think I gained a couple of rows there on the choose cone and ran the middle, which seemed to be better than right around the bottom.”

Michael “Buddy” Kofoid in fourth and Macri rounded out the top five.

World of Outlaws star and former NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne was one of 41 entrants, but he was not among the 26 starters. He failed to advance to the Main after finishing eighth in the B Main and seventh in his heat.

Feature Results

A Feature (40 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson[4]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu[1]; 3. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[17]; 4. 71-Michael Kofoid[5]; 5. 39M-Anthony Macri[3]; 6. 9-Chase Randall[9]; 7. 26-Zeb Wise[14]; 8. 1X-Jake Bubak[15]; 9. 8-Aaron Reutzel[10]; 10. 14D-Corey Day[18]; 11. 11-Cory Eliason[12]; 12. 5T-Ryan Timms[11]; 13. 88-Austin McCarl[13]; 14. 21H-Brady Bacon[22]; 15. 48-Danny Dietrich[16]; 16. 7S-Robbie Price[19]; 17. 21-Brian Brown[23]; 18. 22-Riley Goodno[26]; 19. 52-Blake Hahn[25]; 20. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[21]; 21. 3J-Dusty Zomer[6]; 22. 14-Cole Macedo[7]; 23. 19-Brent Marks[2]; 24. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[8]; 25. 25-Lachlan McHugh[20]; 26. 53-Jack Dover[24]

2023 High Limit Sprint Car Series

Race 1: Giovanni Scelzi wins at Lakeside Speedway
Race2: Anthony Macri wins at 34 Raceway
Race 3: Kyle Larson wins at Wayne County Speedway
Race 4: Kyle Larson wins at Tri-City Speedway