Jeff Gordon gained a spot in the Sprint Cup point standings with a 12th-place run Saturday night in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Unfortunately for Gordon, he remains 87 points out of qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup by making the top 10 in the standings, so he’s on a win-and-win-in-a-hurry schedule if he hopes to pursue a fifth national championship.
The next shot comes Sunday in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where Gordon has won three times but where he hasn’t scored since 1998.
"It's a track that I really enjoy, but it's not an easy one to get around because of the long straightaways, flat corners and hard braking,” Gordon said of the 1.058-mile track. “I think the variable banking has made it a little bit easier to run side-by-side and make passes, though."
Gordon has 15 top-five runs at NHMS, where he has raced 34 times. His wins came in 1995, 1997 and 1998.
"I think Loudon is a great opportunity for us," said Gordon. "We've been very competitive here recently, and I feel we can be competitive here again this weekend with hopefully a shot at winning.”
Gordon is a sour seventh in the current wild-card standings. Of the six drivers above him, four – Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne – have race victories. Gordon hasn’t won since last September at Atlanta.
It’s not exactly a throw-caution-to-the-wind weekend for Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports team, but the No. 24 group certainly is in a position to take big risks to seek big rewards.
“We are not afraid of trying things with the setup or during the race," Gordon said. "We're not afraid to take some risks. Each race that goes by without a win [means] the more risk we are willing to take. But I feel like we're still a long way from being out of this thing."
The clock is ticking, however. Gordon probably will need to score a win and mount a significant charge in the points or win twice over the next eight races to nail a Chase spot.
Gordon finished 11th and fourth in the two Loudon races last season.
“I feel like Alan (crew chief Alan Gustafson) and our engineers do an excellent job on flat race tracks, especially tracks like Loudon,” Gordon said. “I can’t wait. New Hampshire is high on my list of tracks that I feel we can capitalize on.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.