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Jeff Gordon may have to 'win' his way into the playoffs...and that could be something to watch!

Jeff Gordon may have to 'win' his way into the playoffs...and that could be something to watch!

Jeff Gordon: ready to win again...and needs to start winning big (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   By Mike Mulhern

   DOVER, Del.
   Few drivers here look to have more on the line in Sunday's Dover 400 than Jeff Gordon.
   Not only is he playing in the hometown of his long-time sponsor DuPont, but he's still trying to break into the win column on the NASCAR tour.
   Gordon's current winless streak, since last September at Atlanta, doesn't show how strong he's been running….more the incredible run of  bad luck he's  been suffering through.
   And Gordon, if things work out the way they could, may just be the man to make the case that those two wild cards spots in the sport's fall playoffs are a good addition to this game.
   Gordon is mired 22nd in the Sprint Cup standings, 174 points behind leader Greg Biffle. Now if these were the 'old' points, that would be bad enough, but these are the 'new' points – essentially one point for each finishing position in each race.
   Gordon knows he's in a deep hole, one he may likely have to 'win' his way out of.
   Those two wild cards chase spots go to the two men with the most wins and not already in the playoffs by the September Richmond cutoff, as long as they're in the top-20 in points.
    "Our reason for not being in the top-10 has nothing to do with the way we have been running, it is the way we have been finishing," Gordon says.
   So that 7th at Charlotte in the 600 a week ago was somewhat welcomed relief.
   Still, it's not a win.


   Jeff Gordon (R), with another driver who needs to start making big things happen, Aric Almirola (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   "There's nothing you can do that can stop you from having a blown tire at Darlington, a cut tire at Bristol, a blown engine at Kansas," Gordon says.
   "I had one of the best cars I've ever had in the 600 this past week.  Unfortunately we had to pass about 50 cars to get there to that seventh-place finish, because we got caught out on that green flag stop. That got us way behind.  Then we knew that the two-tire stop (later) was a risky stop, because we were the last one (on the track) on two tires. That didn't work out either.
    "We are running good enough to certainly be in the top-10 in points. We just have to start continuing to put finishes together like we did last week."
    However Gordon would have to get some help – in the form of bad luck – from many of those guys still ahead of him in the standings. And as conservatively as everyone seems to be running right now, playing catch-up may be difficult.
   Getting wins may be the more logical way to make the playoffs.
   "I think we are capable of getting some wins before this chase," Gordon says. "Hopefully we get enough to get us into it."

   Dover fans come in all shapes and sizes.....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    And just why are drivers running so conservatively, why are there so few incidents, so few caution flags for things other than debris?
   Are drivers 'gaming' the points system, as teammate Jimmie Johnson suspects?
    "I think guys are racing smarter," Gordon says.  
     "When I look back through the years of my experiences in this sport, there have been certain drivers you always seem to see in cautions.  I think the quality of the drivers, and the way they are using their heads….and the cars certainly have a lot of grip in them, so they don't get out of shape quite as much as they used to.  
     "There was plenty of side-by-side racing last week, and opportunities for wrecks to happen…and they didn't happen.  I know it wasn't from me being cautious. I wasn't being very cautious; I can certainly tell you we are not points racing.  
     "Maybe that (points racing) is contributing to that (fewer cautions), but that is certainly not where we're at.  
     "There are guys in position to be more aggressive than other guys….and in position to be less aggressive.  I don't see that is any different than 10 years ago, 20 years ago."


   Is that your lucky cap, Tony? When ol' Smoke is grinning like this, better watch out.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

     Still, the technical side of this sport has gotten all but out of hand, it would seem. Speeds are sizzling, tires are grippy, horsepower is incredible, aerodynamics is almost too slick, unless you're the leader with clean air.
     Does NASCAR need to tweak some things?
    Will that new 2013 stocker offer opportunities to change things up?
   Gordon says he'd like crew chiefs to sit down with NASCAR officials "and come together on some areas they think could create (allow) more creativity and  gray area they can work in.
     "We look at the aerodynamics -- how we 'seal' the car down to the track…..
     "NASCAR is cutting the (side) skirts off cars (to limit some of those ground-effects).
     "We've lost the mechanical-grip side of the cars over the years and gained so much aerodynamic grip. I would like to see us go back to less aerodynamic grip and little bit more mechanical grip."
    The aerodynamic issues and 'aero-push' should be center stage at Pocono and Michigan the next two weeks, with new, fast asphalt at those two high-speed tracks.
   Indeed this Sunday here, and the next few weeks, a lot of talk will be about 'track surface.'
   Here Gordon says Goodyear's new compound will bear watching: "We're still learning this tire and what it's going to do.
    "Usually when a tire has more grip, that's going to make us go around the bottom a little bit more.
     "And the tire is not wearing a lot. Goodyear found a way to bring more grip here with a tire that doesn't give up and wear out as much. It always amazes me when they're able to do that."
   But where all that leaves the drivers, in their constant search for new grooves through the corners?
  "I love to see the groove move up to the top here," Gordon says. "To see Dover at its best is when there is a top groove, middle groove, and bottom groove.
    "Goodyear brought different tires, and the track is acting a lot different, and it's got a lot of grip. It's really fast, and you've got to adapt your set-up.
    "Typically when rubber gets laid down on the track, we start searching, and pushing that groove up and up and up."

   Spin 'n win? That usually doesn't get it done in NASCAR. But, hey, it's been a strange season, as rebounding Michael Waltrip knows so well (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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