[media-credit name=”Barry Albert” align=”alignright” width=”233″][/media-credit]Among the races Jeff Gordon could have, should have or would have won in 2010 was Texas Motor Speedway. Instead Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet ended up on a wrecker in the garage. Entering this Saturday night’s Samsung Mobile 500 though, he’ll be atop many lists of ones to watch.
After winning earlier this season in Phoenix, his Drive To End Hunger team hit a rough patch. A wreck in Las Vegas sent him to a 36th place finish, an ill-handling car in Bristol resulted in a 14th place finish and California was no different when he finished 18th.
Last weekend in Martinsville Gordon was back up front and leading laps. He’ll take a fifth place finish into the Lone Star State where he won for the first time in the spring of 2009.
“We haven’t always run well at Texas, but I am cautiously optimistic heading into the weekend,” said Gordon. “The difference in our performance in the spring and the fall races recently is probably just different weather and track conditions at that time of year.”
The most recent Texas race, last November, Gordon and Jeff Burton engaged in a shoving match on the backstretch following a wreck. This week Gordon is in no fighting mood as he has had plenty to be happy about since leaving Virginia.
On Monday he passed 50,000 Twitter followers and rewarded his fans by giving away 24-signed items. Tuesday he was with daughter Ella at cooking class when wife Ingrid informed him that son eight-month-old son Leo was starting to crawl. Gordon immediately tweeted he couldn’t wait to get home to see for himself.
After the family fun is over, Gordon will leave for Texas and a race that he led 124 of 334 laps last year before being collected in a big wreck on the frontstretch. He had already knocked doors and fenders in what would be the start of a series of run-ins with teammate Jimmie Johnson.
And while he’s had plenty of controversy at Texas, he’s also found plenty of success. The past two spring races Gordon has led 229 of a possible 668 laps. Add to those numbers on Gordon’s resume two poles, seven top-fives, nine top-10s and 581 laps led in 20 starts and Texas, while not statistically, has become one of his better tracks.
It’s also one that he speaks fondly of when thinking about all the racing he’s done there and how much the track has changed since it’s first NASCAR race in 1997. Gordon finished 30th that day.
“This track has always been one of the premier facilities – if not the premier facility,” he said. “There is no other place like this and it has really turned into a fantastic track. When we first came here, it was a really, really challenging racetrack. It was fast and the transitions were really abrupt and it was hard just to stay out of the wall.”
For his aforementioned success, Gordon hasn’t been immune to the bad luck bug. Texas has been rough on the four-time champion, which is why it took until 2009 for him to finally find victory lane. Hard crashes and hard luck made Texas a track he didn’t enjoy racing on and it was where for the first time in his career he finished 43rd back in 2008. Those days are long gone and as the racing has gotten better, so has Gordon.
“As the surface has worn and as we’ve gotten the cars handling better, it’s become one of the premier tracks,” Gordon said. “The racetrack itself has come into its own and made great racing with the groove widening out. It seems like it gets better every time we come here.”
Should Gordon win on Saturday night he will have done so with a different crew chief than the one he did so with in 2009. Alan Gustafson now leads the No. 24 team who sits 12th in points entering the weekend.
“Alan, the team I have talked about this weekend’s race,” said Gordon. “And we’ll have more discussions before this weekend. But, right now, I feel good about our plan for Texas.”