Is Gordon's slow start part of a master Cup-winning plan?
SI.com's Mark Beech offers the most intriguing news, notes and analysis fans s need to know heading into each week's race.
Jeff Gordon's year actually hasn't been as bad as it's looked. The four-time Cup champ currently ranks eighth in the Chase standings, and has been quietly improving since a disastrous start that saw the No. 24 team finish 35th or worse in three of the season's first seven races. In the seven races since, he hasn't run outside of the top-20, and has reeled off four top-10 finishes in his last five starts.
But he hasn't yet won. Indeed, his last victory came in October 2007. And some are starting to wonder if there's a problem. So far, Gordon has taken things in stride, noting that he's been this deep into a season without a victory on a few other occasions.
"Right now, I think that we're less focused with trying to win races than maybe the media and other people are caught up in," he says. "We are more caught up in what do we have to do to make ourselves better, and it's one step at a time. It doesn't just happen overnight ... I think Kasey Kahne is a perfect example. They really weren't any better than us, if not worse than us, prior to Charlotte. And, you know, they have hit on some things that have really allowed that team to take off. And I think we are capable of doing the same thing."
As Jimmie Johnson has said already, part of the reason for the slow start at Hendrick Motorsports this season is that the team was so heavily involved in the Chase last season. Hendrick's drivers were simply unable to completely prepare for '08 until the '07 season was over. But I also think that Gordon might be taking a longer view than he did a year ago. Remember how he pressed to win at Watkins Glen last August, and how crushed he was that he didn't? He seems intent this season with not peaking too early. The time to win races is in the fall. NASCAR's regular season may be shorter these days, but it's still long enough.
How to drive
Michigan International Speedway
Elliott Sadler talks about driving at MIS: "Michigan is a wide race track, which is great because it allows me to move around and find the fastest way groove based on how my car is handling. I've always qualified pretty well at Michigan, but haven't had the results we deserved during the race. We've been a lot faster since the Lowe's Motor Speedway test and I feel like our cars are getting better and have more speed. We need to put a good race together and leave Michigan with a top-10 effort. As a company, we have a lot of momentum right now and this 19 team needs to capitalize on it."
6: Top-10 finishes in seven career starts at Michigan for driver Carl Edwards, including one victory.
8: Top-10 finishes in 28 career starts at Michigan for driver Jeff Burton, who has never won on the track.
10.5: Average finish at Michigan for Jeff Gordon, the best of any driver currently in the top 12 of the standings.
June 15, 1969: In his '69 Mercury, Cale Yarborough leads 38 laps and holds off David Pearson to win the Motor State 500, the inaugural Grand National race at Michigan International Speedway. Pearson would go on to win the Grand National title that year, while Yarborough finished 23rd.