As the inaugural winner of the Kansas Speedway’s first two races in 2001 and 2002, it’s not surprising that four-time champion Jeff Gordon enjoys heading to the Midwest.
In 2001 he led 53 laps in route to his 58th career victory and eventual fourth championship eight weeks later. Gordon then returned in 2002 where he dominated by leading 116 laps before battling Ryan Newman late. It was Gordon’s 61st career win. If career win No. 83 should come this weekend, don’t be surprised if Gordon has another one of those days.
At Dover last weekend, Gordon relieved his Kansas victories.
“I think everybody wants to go to a track, a new market, and win that race,” he said. “I know that certainly was the case for us, we went there excited about a new racetrack and wanting to be the team to figure it out the best and fastest and we did that.”
As the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins to get heated, Kansas will play host to race No. 3. For Gordon it can’t come quick enough as he looks to one of his favorite places to help his Chase chances.
“When you go to a track, a new track, and you win the first two races there it certainly gives you a lot of confidence and makes it one of your favorites right away,” Gordon said.
When the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet team heads to a speedway this weekend though, they’ll be doing so looking for another first: a win in 2010. They started the season in championship form, running and finishing up front even though numerous wins slipped through their fingers.
Currently sitting eighth in points, 83 behind leader Denny Hamlin, Gordon’s ready to make a big statement at a track he says seems like just yesterday opened and is still new to him. The “Drive for Five,” as his fans have adapted to calling it since 2001, is well in reach but Gordon needs to win and win soon if he really wants to apply the pressure to the point leaders.
“I like Kansas, I know that,” Gordon said. “I feel like our mile and a half program is really strong this year. When I look at the 10 races in the Chase, Kansas is one that stands out as one we’re looking forward to going to.”
Good news for Gordon is a performance he had in July at Chicagoland. Chicago is well worth mentioning for two reasons. A sister track to Kansas, success at Chicago can set the bar for a good run later in the year at KS. Gordon was one of the dominant cars in Chicago and was leading late in the going. David Reutimann took the lead and the win from Gordon with 54 laps to go as Gordon finished third.
“We ran well at Chicago and it’s probably the closest track to Kansas on the circuit,” Gordon continued. “I feel like other than Charlotte we’ve been really good on the mile and half’s this year. We recognize we got to get better at Charlotte, but hey I can’t wait to get to Kansas.”
Excitement about going to Kansas is evident in Gordon’s words and face and for good reason. While winning would certainly be great and is the ultimate goal, it’s not the only thing that has gotten the job done for Gordon.
Since Kansas opened, Gordon has scored the most points of any driver with 1,314. Behind Gordon is Tony Stewart with 1,199 points. Stewart is also the only driver besides Gordon who has won multiple races at Kansas.
Heading into the weekend Gordon is sure to be listed as a favorite. In nine races he’s led 157 laps, won twice, has six top fives and seven top 10s. Gordon’s average start is a 9.9 while his average finish is 8.9.
Will this be the time “Big Daddy” strikes big in the Chase? Not that he needs anything else in his favor, Gordon will also enter the weekend with three straight top five finishes at Kansas.
“Even when we’re not at our best it seems to be one of our good tracks,” said Gordon. “I think we’re much better this year than what we’ve been the last couple years.”
The confidence and statistics are clear, all that’s left if for the No. 24 team to do is execute. Throughout the garage drivers readily admit that they run well at tracks they love and for Gordon has played that hand well.
When informed that Kansas would be receiving two dates in 2011 Gordon replied, “Even better,” before lobbying that both races should be in the Chase. One thing at a time however, just as Gordon will take it one race at a time.
Kansas though, could end up being one big race for Gordon and company.