FORT WORTH, Texas — Jeff Gordon acknowledges that most of his answers will be similar when asked about his championship chances, usually along the lines of wait and see what happens.
Gordon is just glad the tone of the questions has changed with three races left in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“Man, the thing is, I love just the fact that we're in the conversation right now,” Gordon said Friday. “I'm just excited that we're not talking about me retiring and what changes need to happen to our team. I mean, you've got to understand those are the conversations and questions I've been getting asked most of the season, and I understand. Our results and our stats have not been good enough to have any other questions be asked.”
Gordon has certainly made the most of getting an unprecedented 13th spot in the Chase. The four-time Cup champion has moved up to a season-high third in points going into Sunday's race at Texas, the high-banked, 1½-mile track with which he has admittedly had a love-hate relationship.
After getting his first victory of the season last weekend at Martinsville, Gordon moved within 27 points of Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.
“We're not going into anything hoping or wishing anything bad on anybody. We're just proud to be where we're at, and just hope that we can keep that up,” Gordon said. “We've got momentum, we've got a lot of excitement within the team, we're going to the race track having fun. ”
Gordon qualified eighth at Texas, and will start behind both Johnson and Kenseth.
Carl Edwards, the only three-time Cup winner at Texas, earned the pole with a qualifying lap of 196.114 mph. Johnson was third at 195.943, even brushing the wall coming hard out of the fourth turn, and Kenseth was sixth at 195.518.
“I was committed to the throttle off of Turn 4 and just kind of ran out of room,” Johnson said. “And I hate to admit it, but at one point I think I had my eyes shut because I knew there was going to be contact. I just didn't know how much. But, I just grazed the wall and scratched the sticker for the bumper cover and tail light on the back of the car.”
Gordon, 42, won his last Cup title in 2001 and got into this year's Chase only two days before the opening race. NASCAR ruled that he had been denied the ability to fairly race his way into the 12-driver field by the manipulations of at least three other organizations during the Sept. 7 race at Richmond.
This will be the 26th Cup race at Texas, where Gordon has 11 top-10 finishes and won four years ago. But it is also the track where he has the only two last-place finishes in his 722 career starts, and finished 38th in April because of a suspension problem.
“The first couple of years that we were here, it didn't go so well,” he said. “When I think way back when this track was first built, a very challenging race track. There were times we were really fast but couldn't get to the finish. Then we were finally able to pull off a victory and the last couple of times we've been here, we've actually been very competitive ... Yeah, I would say it's a bit of a love-hate, but recently it's been more love than anything else.”
Gordon also started eighth at Texas seven months ago, and led 15 laps before the mechanical problems.
“We were very competitive but then had a failure with the left front hub,” he said. “That was very bittersweet.”
Only two drivers have more than the eight top-five finishes Gordon has at Texas. They just happen to be Kenseth (12) and Johnson (nine), whose 15 top-10 finishes are tied for the most there. Kenseth's average finish in the Lone Star State is 8.5 with Johnson's 9.1 the next-best on the list.
They are even closer in points this season, deadlocked though Kenseth owns the tiebreaker based on his seven wins over Johnson's five.
“Obviously I'm happy to be the leader even though it's just really a tie and we have the tiebreaker,” Kenseth said. “I'd be more happy if we were the leader and it was 3½ weeks from now. ... Hopefully, we can go out here and run away. I know we're capable of running up front and get a good result on Sunday and keep rolling.”