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NASCAR Cup Series

Jeff Gordon Scores Pole, Seeks Seventh Talladega Win

It has not been a typical Jeff Gordon year and yet it has somewhat had the characteristics that have defined the No. 24 team since that fateful first start on November 15, 1992.  This team has believed in their motto, “Refuse to Lose” which has been instrumental behind Gordon’s 92 NASCAR Sprint Cup victories, four championships, and perhaps their most important chapter with the 44-year-old racer: the final run at the Cup.

Gordon’s road to his final five Cup races begins today at Talladega which not only marks the halfway point of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship but also the elimination race for the Contender Round of 12 field (Live on NBCSN at 12:30 PM ET for prerace, 2:30 PM ET for race).  Much like this season, Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson (who enter today’s race in the sixth position in points) haven’t been flashy on the track during the Chase but the results have been strong enough for their battles to continue for another day.

Finishes of 14th at Chicago, seventh at Loudon, 12th at Dover, eighth at Charlotte, and 10th at Kansas haven’t been spectacular and certainly not garnering championship numbers to the pundits of the circuit.  However, this is a driver and team who’ve been fighting hard on making the most of their days by being smart, strategic, and patient.

This weekend has been a prime example of the No. 24 team exemplifying those three qualities plus the speed that hasn’t been prevalent at the non-restrictor plate tracks this year.  Scoring the pole for today’s 500 at Talladega, Gordon immediately praised his team while he observed the lessons in which he hoped to draw from for today.

Gordon observed how his team has been getting the most of their race days in recent weeks.

Gordon observed how his team has been getting the most of their race days in recent weeks.

“Well, we really feel like we were dominant here in May,” Gordon said.  “I made a mistake getting too aggressive to pit road.  Hopefully, we will learn from our mistakes and we can take advantage of that No. 1 pit stall or selection anyway, as well as, a very fast race car and try to keep it up front.”

Keeping it up front is something that Gordon is quite familiar with at Talladega as he’s compiled six victories at the biggest speedway on the NASCAR circuit including a season sweep at 2007, ironically the most recent win at this facility.  Unlike most weeks when the Vallejo, CA native has focused on just making the best of each race, he’s expressed confidence in his chances to be more than a probable entrant in the next round of the Chase.

Gordon's had fast cars at Talladega. Can he finally capitalize or execute on this on race day?

Gordon’s had fast cars at Talladega. Can he finally capitalize or execute on this on race day?

“I really believe that if we can make it through this round, we have three great tracks coming up that we can move on all the way to Homestead and do something we didn’t do last year and possibly something I’ve never done before, and that’s win a Sprint Cup Championship,” Gordon said in possibly the longest but most confidence single sentence of the season.  “I know that we’re not running the way that some others are. But if we get through this one, I’m telling you there are four tracks where we can surprise some people. That’s all that’s on my mind.”

While others are coming into today’s race either with cautious optimism or the same kind of fear that Mario or Luigi likely display at a Ghost House, Gordon and company realize that this is a race that they must relish and capitalize on similar to next weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

Similar to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr’s approach to the plate races, Gordon realizes he’s in a great situation with the cars, engines, and personnel who are working on making the Nos. 24 and 88 teams as strong as possible to advance to the penultimate round of the title race.

“I think we all understand what’s at stake and what our goal and our mission is and how we can work together to better our chances,” Gordon remarked.  “We know what (Dale Earnhardt) Junior has to do. We know what we have to do. And we’ve got four excellent race cars and race teams that can definitely work together and help to make that happen. But, you can’t control everything out there.

We’ll just get the green and go racing and just see how it’s working out and how the lines are forming and choosing the right lines. We have to do our job first and then hopefully we can put ourselves in position to either help Junior or have those guys helping both of us to make sure we secure our way to the next round.”

The plate races haven’t been extremely kind to Gordon this year with a 33rd at the Daytona 500 and a 31st at the May ‘Dega race not really reflecting how strong and dominant that No. 24 Chevy has been at the plate races.  That said, a seventh at Daytona somewhat showed their potential to be a race day contender in being near the same zip code as the No. 88 team.

This No. 24 team isn’t giving up quite yet even if the elimination race is at a place where carnage and fear run rampant on the competitors’ mindsets as often as the fans at Talladega partying it up all weekend long. Impressively, the team has turned cars that ran deep in the scoring order at Charlotte and Kansas into top-10 machines.

Jeff Gordon and Amanda Mertz aka "Miss Coors Light" next to that silver No. 24 car.

Jeff Gordon and Amanda Mertz aka “Miss Coors Light” next to that silver No. 24 car.

“I feel like earlier in the year we were taking 10th-place cars and turning them into 15th,” Gordon pointed out.  “Ever since the Chase started – other than Chicago – we’ve been executing very well and getting a little bit more out of what we had on the track. I think Charlotte proved that. Did we have a car that if you put us in seventh or eighth could we have run there? Yes, but I thought we executed very well.”

Today, they have a fast arsenal and a driver who is very confident in his chances to not only get the job done now but in the upcoming weeks ahead at Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix.  Much like how NFL teams have a keyword to get prepared for their big game day, Gordon’s magic word about his chances and team is “execute.”

“We’re getting more out of the car,” Gordon said.  “We keep doing what we talked about all year long, and that’s execute. That’s what we were working on earlier in the season.  We have a very fast race car. We have to execute and I have to execute and not make mistakes. If we do that and have a little luck on our side, there’s no doubt that we can not only win this race, but move on.”

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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