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Jeff and Jay....Hey, Gordon looks quite at ease on these TV sets....again

  Jeff Gordon gets a big chunk of Phoenix asphalt for his trophy case (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   Jeff Gordon looked perfectly at home back in the chair next to NBC's Jay Leno on the Tonight Show the other night in LA…and he quickly credited the car-buff host for the invite 'the next time you win.'
   Of course neither Gordon nor Leno figured it would be nearly two years.( http://bit.ly/dGHogA )

   Yes, Gordon, during that 66-race dry spell, did have nine runner-ups, and could have easily scored 14 more wins over that span, which would put him well over Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip on NASCAR's all-time win list.
   So now the win total sits at 83 over his career, tying him with Yarborough. A win here this weekend – and Las Vegas Motor Speedway is usually a very good track for Gordon – would tie him with Allison and Waltrip.
    And if teammate Mark Martin's performance at age 51 is any indication, Gordon seems well situated to make at run at legendary David Pearson's total of 105, which is second only to Richard Petty's over-the-top 200.
   But the man Gordon is facing off against at the moment is indefatigable Kyle Busch, who came within just a few car-lengths of sweeping all three NASCAR events at Phoenix last weekend. (However Busch may have to settle some things with Carl Edwards…..)
   Phoenix may have been a rough weekend for Daytona winner Trevor Bayne (but then he's only half Gordon's age, and has only three Cup races under his belt). But now with Gordon back winning again, it may well be that, as car owner Eddie Wood says, all is right with the NASCAR world again.
   For Gordon Sunday was something of a surprise. The Rick Hendrick teams had struggled much of the weekend, and questions were being raised.
   But Gordon said when the green dropped "I knew that we had something special.  The car was doing a lot of great things.  It was turning good.  It was getting off the corner really strong. 
   "You know how good Kevin Harvick is, and we were hanging right there with him and picking our way through.
    "I was like 'Man, we have got something really good here.'"
   Then Gordon had to rally from a crash, the latest Busch-Edwards run-in.
   "I thought we were done," Gordon conceded.
   But new crew chief Alan Gustafson was optimistic, making quick repairs.
   Then luck played a role. "We'd only made half a lap and they wrecked on the back straightaway, and all came to pit road…and we were sitting there like fourth," Gordon said. "This is unbelievable sequence of events, and turnaround."
   Gordon certainly made the most of it.
   "The difference for me was that we have been in position to win races, and then spun the tires on the restart or whatever…and I have not been in a position to put pressure on the leader, to force him to make mistakes, or to be in control of the situation. Not in a very long time. 
    "That was such a cool feeling -- you're in control of your destiny."

  This season, when it's time to put your dukes up, Jeff Gordon may have a little more for 'em (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  The winning pass: Gordon made the move to the inside, then stayed inside of Busch just a tick longer than usual, banged doors, and then pulled quickly ahead.
     "I was shocked I even got under him," Gordon said. "Then I decided to check-up early because I was afraid he was going to do the swap over on me.  He's pretty notorious about that.
    "I felt him on my right side…and my car got loose and we banged a little bit and slipped. My spotter said 'Clear,' and I drove off.
   "I looked up and he was three or four car lengths behind me, and I'm like 'Yes!'
   "Beating Kyle was pretty tough to do; nobody could beat him.  He's tough.  I respect his talent…and he's aggressive. You don't want to have to restart up against him. 
    "He's won a lot of stuff lately. So, to be quite honest,  to me there's nothing cooler….to beat aggressive, talented drivers.
   "It's been a roller-coaster ride the last couple of years.
   "So I was feeling a lot of emotion…because it's just so cool to get back to winning."

    And pressure.
    "A lot of pressure," Gordon concedes.
    "You have not won in 66 races, you hear it from the media, you hear it from the fans, and it's hard to ignore that. 
    "It's on all of us.  When you've had the success we have had….
     "I guess every driver knows there's going to be that time in their life when they are not going to go to victory lane again -- and you don't know when that time is going to come. 
     "I was so hoping that time was not for me now.
    "I felt I still have it in me. 
     "I know how passionate I am about it. 
     "But things have changed in the sport, the cars have changed, tires have changed, competition has changed.
    "So when you go through a streak without winning, you think 'Okay, is it me or what is it?'"

    NBC's Jay Leno and Jeff Gordon (Photo: NBC Tonight Show)

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