FONTANA, Calif. – Four races into the 2013 season, and Jeff Gordon has only one finish better than 20th. Yet he is still ahead of last year’s pace when he earned a coveted Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup spot.
In 2012, the driver of the No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet entered the fifth race of the season with 85 championship points. Heading into this Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event, the three-time California winner has five more points and has led 92 more laps compared to this time last year.
“We were hoping for a good points day at Bristol,” said Gordon, who experienced tire issues while leading, hit the Turn 4 wall and finished 34th at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway last weekend. “That didn’t happen but we had a strong car during the event.
“We’ll just put that behind us and focus on Fontana.”
Along with three wins (1997, 1999 and 2004), Gordon has two poles (1998 and 2007), 10 top-five finishes and 11 top-10s in 23 starts at the two-mile track. Last year here, Gordon started 21st and maneuvered inside the top five without the aid of a caution flag. But a pit-road penalty under green-flag conditions led to a 26th-place finish in the rain-shortened event.
“My team gave me a heck of a race car here last year,” said Gordon, who won the inaugural event at the two-mile California speedway. “Even though it’s a new car (Generation-6, Chevrolet SS), we’re hoping to have that speed and handling again this weekend.
“But with a better qualifying effort.”
During this year’s campaign, Gordon’s 7.0 average starting position ranks fifth. But his average finish of 22.0 includes the wreck at Bristol and a 25th-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“We didn’t have the type of run any of us wanted at Las Vegas,” said crew chief Alan Gustafson. “But we learned a lot, and we went in a little different direction – one that seemed to work – at Bristol.
“The high-banked short track at Bristol may appear to be very different than the high-speed two-mile track at Fontana, but I’m hoping some of the things we learned with this car at Bristol will carry over to this weekend.”
And catapult Gordon to victory No. 88.