JOLIET, Ill.–The 11th-hour addition of Jeff Gordon to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is a huge motivator for the driver and his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team.
NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France added Gordon to the Chase as a 13th driver Friday, citing the competitive disadvantage Gordon faced because of other teams’ attempts to manipulate the outcome of Saturday’s Cup race at Richmond.
Can Gordon, who has struggled through an inconsistent season this year, turn that opportunity into a fifth championship?
Gordon likens his inclusion in the Chase to the effects of his battle at Richmond last year, when he edged Kyle Busch final Chase spot and came to Chicagoland with a fast car, only to be undone when his throttle stuck and sent him plowing into the outside wall.
Gordon had a Chase spot within his grasp Saturday at Richmond, before Clint Bowyer’s spin and subsequent manipulation of the outcome by Michael Waltrip Racing reset the Chase field and left Gordon on the outside.
News on Wednesday that Front Row Motorsports had attempted to strike a deal with Penske Racing to give a position to Joey Logano, to Gordon’s potential detriment, prompted France to make the unprecedented decision to add Gordon to the Chase.
“I always like to say that you’ve got to walk before you can run,” Gordon told the NASCAR Wire Service on Friday, when asked about his prospects for NASCAR’s 10-race playoff. “But I will say this has lit a fire under us–I mean, just to go through what we went through Saturday night.
“Really, I look at last year, too. We went through that wild and crazy race and made it in the Chase under those circumstances. We came here ready to go. I loved the way we handled ourselves, even though we had the throttle issue. We were running third or fourth in that race, and to me we had a shot at either winning or top five. And in some funny way, this has kind of given us that same fire that we had last year.”
Now that he’s eligible for the championship, Gordon likes his chances, especially given the 10 tracks that make up the Chase.
“We have 10 or at least eight, I’d say, good racetracks that are in the Chase that I really like, that we run well at, and it starts right here in Chicago,” Gordon said. “This is a good track for us. We qualified well (sixth for Sunday’s GEICO 400, the first Chase race).
“New Hampshire is a great track for us. Martinsville is a great track for us. Obviously, Homestead is a great track. We ran great in Charlotte. I mean, I would say Kansas and Phoenix are the two that are probably on our radar that we need to do better at. Texas is another good track for us.
“So I’m excited. I know we haven’t shown it yet this year, but this team is ready to show it now. So I think that the one thing is, when you get yourself in this position, you want to show the world and our racing community–the ones that support us and the ones that didn’t–that we belong here, and there’s a reason why we’re in this thing.”