For much of Sunday's Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway, it appeared as if Jeff Gordon was going to have yet another disappointing finish.
The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet was never a factor at the front of the field in his final Pocono start, but in the end crossed the finish line third, tying his best finish of the season.
While Gordon's day did not go according to plan, he was able to move up in the running order as the leaders fell by the wayside running out of fuel in the closing laps of the race.
"I thought we were trying to get maybe 10th or 12th and all of a sudden they said, 'You're third,' and I think I was probably the most shocked person out there on the racetrack when I found that out," Gordon said after the race. "I knew cars were peeling off, but I just didn't realize that many were either running out or coming to pit road."
After a disappointing 42nd-place finish in his final start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend, the third-place run on Sunday was a much-needed result as Gordon works to make the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup field.
While Gordon is 12th in the standings, 83 points ahead of the 16th spot, the Hendrick Motorsports driver is not comfortable with his position with only five races left before the Chase field is set.
"We're not in a safe position," said Gordon, who is in his last full season. "Our teammates Junior (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and Jimmie (Johnson) are, and Kasey (Kahne) is not at all, so I don't know what happened today. I haven't talked to those guys, other than I know (Kahne) got loose and got into the inside wall there on pit road, and we're going to be doing everything we can with the 5-24 (Kahne and Gordon) teams being under one roof there at Hendrick Motorsports, working as teammates, working with our other teammates to try to do what we can to get both of us in. We're going to be fighting for every position."
After scoring four wins in 2014, Gordon has yet to find Victory Lane this year, has just three top fives and has finished 31st or worse in four events. Still, the veteran driver and four-time champion is not ready to throw in the towel.
"It's not been the kind of season that we would hope to have for my final season and certainly hasn't stacked up to what we had last year, but we don't quit," he said. "We fight for every race to build a better race car, to get the performance up, pay attention to our competitors, and do all that we can to put the best race car and race team out there. Sometimes you need just something to pull you through it, and last week got us down quite a bit.
"This is definitely going to lift us back up," he said of his third-place finish on Sunday. "I think it's not about carrying momentum; it's about getting momentum, and I think this is the beginning of hopefully what can get us the momentum we need to get where we need to."