Jeff Gordon Prepares for Final Run at Championship

Jeff Gordon is all focused on winning his final championship.

For a majority of the racers and teams on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit, today’s MyAFibRisk.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway marks the start of The Chase or for those not in the playoff field, it’s a countdown to the final 10 races of this season.

However, it’s more than both for Jeff Gordon and his No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet team as they’re not only fighting for the championship, but it also means that there are essentially just 10 races left for the legendary 44-year-old racer’s illustrious career.

In fact, Gordon will start his 788th consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup race, tying the record set by Chesapeake, VA’s Ricky Rudd for most races started in a row.  NASCAR’s “Iron Man” record will more than likely be broken by Gordon next weekend at Loudon, NH.  However, it’s more than those milestone accomplishments like the impressive Iron Man streak.

On the track, it hasn’t been one of Gordon’s strongest on record but the effort has been there to be a championship caliber force.  As Gordon indicated during Thursday’s media frenzy, he’s been proud of his accomplishments, notably his five Brickyard 400 wins and he’s also equally as proud of what he’s accomplished off the track with his foundation’s efforts aiding in the fight against pediatric cancer.

Gordon has noted how he’s enjoyed this year for what it’s worth as he’s reconnected with people who helped him throughout his racing career.  While the gifts from various tracks have accumulated throughout the season, he’s taken this final year with humility and grace.

Jeff Gordon signs autographs for fans during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Chicagoland Speedway, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, in Joliet, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Jeff Gordon signs autographs for fans during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Chicagoland Speedway, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, in Joliet, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Whether it’s been sharing some fun stories with the press about his on track peers from his earlier days in NASCAR (yes, Ricky Rudd is tougher than Gordon) to spending time with the fans at appearances or those walks from his transporter to the racecar.  Through all of those off track moments, he’s found himself in position to win his fifth and ultimate driver’s championship, a feat that would surely be sentimental.

Heading into today’s race with three top-fives and 13 top-10’s, it’s a rare situation in which Gordon and the No. 24 brigade aren’t exactly considered the odds on favorites to win the championship.  In fact, it’s been said that the Hendrick Motorsports teams have struggled to keep up with the likes of the Joe Gibbs Racing organization as well as Team Penske over the past three months.

That said, it’s looking like the “sleeping giant” is waking up in time when results absolutely count.  Sure, the first race of The Chase has yet to happen but based off practice results throughout this weekend, as a whole, this powerhouse group is looking fast off the truck including that of Jeff Gordon’s team.

Even going back to the July race weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Gordon observed his team’s tenacity and their determination to right the No. 24’s sails for a late summer and autumn run at glory.

Jeff Gordon, left, talks with Jamie McMurray during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Chicagoland Speedway, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Joliet, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Jeff Gordon, left, talks with Jamie McMurray during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Chicagoland Speedway, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Joliet, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

“I love the fight that this team has in them,” Gordon said.  “We’ve shown this over the years.  We just never give up.  Whether we’re down a little bit or things aren’t going as well as you want them to, we just keep working extremely hard to improve those results.  That hard work has been paying off lately and we’re getting better results but we know we’ve got more work to do and we’re working hard to make it happen.”

Gordon was 11th fastest in opening practice on Friday afternoon which saw teams flocking to qualifying trim, a smart move as rain eliminated Coors Light Pole qualifying that evening.  Their practice result propelled them to a 10th starting position for today’s race.

In Saturday’s practice sessions, which were ran approximately around the same time as today’s race, Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson seemed to find a combination that worked on that No. 24 Chevy.  During opening practice, they set the third fastest time and fifth fastest result in a 10-lap run.  Just a few hours later, they followed up with the 11th fastest time, translating to the ninth quickest effort in a 10-lap run.

Jeff Gordon drives his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Chicagoland Speedway, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, in Joliet, Ill. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

Jeff Gordon drives his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Chicagoland Speedway, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, in Joliet, Ill. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

Momentum seems to finally be in Gordon’s grasp during crunch time as it appears that the 2006 Chicagoland winner might have another strong car at this 1.5-mile speedway.  Perhaps it started last weekend at Richmond International Raceway, as the No. 24 team compiled their strongest race effort yet, climbing from their 23rd starting position en route to a seventh place finish.

As the case has been throughout Gordon’s career, it’s not exactly wise to count the No. 24 team out, even if they haven’t looked their best at times.  Since Day One, it’s always been about their unrelenting resolve to do their jobs right and believe in a principal established by iconic crew chief Ray Evernham: refuse to lose.

Certainly, a lot of the talk and accolades about this year’s championship should be focused on the likes of Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, and Brad Keselowski.  Throw in Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to that equation as well in terms of the heavyweight title favorites.

For Jeff Gordon, when his racing career concludes in November, nothing else can replicate being in the driver's seat.

For Jeff Gordon, when his racing career concludes in November, nothing else can replicate being in the driver’s seat.

Just don’t forget Jeff Gordon as well because he might be the racer that spoils a lot of Chase Grids for fans.  Heading down the stretch, these are some of the four-time champion’s best venues and if the past two weekends are any indication, it could be a great final chapter for this Vallejo, CA native.

Much like Gordon said on two months ago at Loudon, NH, in terms of when that final chapter concludes in his career, while he might be busy with his FOX Sports gig and his off-track works with Axalta and his foundation, nothing can replicate being in that driver’s seat.

“I’m certainly going to miss the competition,” Gordon said.  “There’s nothing that can replace being a part of a strong team. All of the communication, hard work, and effort that goes into creating that racecar and making it a winning racecar or a winning team and experiencing what it’s like to make passes and see how you advance around a race and move through the field or dominating the race, whatever it takes, there’s that team effort where you win together or lose together.

Those days where you win and you know how much you put into it, it’s one of the greatest feelings that you could ever have. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to replace that with any experience in life.”

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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