Jeff Gordon stays in Cup title conversation

jutter@charlotteobserver.comOctober 18, 2013 

NASCAR Talladega Auto Racing

Jeff Gordon climbs into his car during practice for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala., Friday, Oct. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Jay Alley)

JAY ALLEY — AP

— So much has changed for Jeff Gordon during his nearly 22-year NASCAR career, but his desire remains the same.

He is a four-time champion of NASCAR’s premier series, but his most recent title came in 2001,and even Gordon isn’t lost on the length of time that has gone by.

“It’s been so long, I don’t know what it feels like to win a championship,” Gordon said Friday at Talladega Superspeedway, site of Sunday’s Camping World 500. Crew chief “Alan Gustafson and this team, I feel like they are very deserving of a championship.

“I’d love to experience this as a group as well as with my wife and my family and how much it would mean to all of us to be able to pull that off.”

When Gordon last won a championship, he was married and had no children. Now, he and his second wife, Ingrid Vandebosch, have two children, a 6-year-old daughter, Ella Sophia, and 3-year-old son, Leo Benjamin.

NASCAR fans and media might think Gordon’s chances at winning his fifth championship are slim-to-none this year, but he refuses to concede.

With five races left and mathematically in contention, there is no reason for Gordon to take any other track.

He doesn’t win as frequently as he once did, but he still wins. He doesn’t find himself in title contention as often as he once did – 2007 probably was his most recent chance.

Yet unlikely circumstances have provided Gordon an opportunity this season, and he doesn’t plan to squander it.

NASCAR chairman Brian France added Gordon as a 13th member of the Chase for the Sprint Cup after Michael Waltrip Racing was penalized for attempting to manipulate the outcome of last month’s race at Richmond, Va., the final race to set what usually is a 12-driver field.

“I don’t even know if I have the words to describe how much it would mean” to win the title, Gordon said. “The longer you’re in the sport and the more ups and downs you go through, the more meaningful wins and championships are – certainly nothing would top that.”

Matt Kenseth continues to lead the standings and holds a four-point advantage over Jimmie Johnson. Kevin Harvick is third, 29 points behind Kenseth. Gordon is in fourth, 36 out.

Qualifying for Sunday’s race will be at 12:10 p.m. Saturday (Fox Sports 2, formerly Fuel Channel).

It certainly is possible for Gordon to make up 36 points, particularly since he has finished eighth or better in seven of his past eight races. The bigger issue is being able to perform consistently better than Kenseth, Johnson and Harvick at the same time.

“We have nothing to lose,” Gordon said. “We came into the Chase 13th. We’re sitting here in a great position and everything is a bonus from here on out for us.”

And if there is a stop remaining on the schedule which provides a lot of people to lose all at the same time, Talladega is it.

“You just know what the risk and the chances are of getting caught up in something and that it can be completely out of your control,” Gordon said, “and those guys have more to lose than the rest of us.

“We’re in a position right now where unless something drastic happens over the next few weeks, we probably don’t have a shot at it anyway.”

In any event, uncertainty and chaos play into Gordon’s favor. Sunday’s race can provide plenty of both.

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.

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