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Gordon Shifting Into High Gear For Brickyard After Pocono Victory

Jeff Gordon is back to prominence in NASCAR Sprint Cup as he scored his second victory of the 2011 season on June 12 at Pocono Raceway. It’s the first time since he won six races in 2007 that Gordon has scored multiple victories in a season.

That means the “Drive for Five” is alive, not only for his fifth Sprint Cup title but also a record fifth Brickyard 400 victory July 31 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

This could this be the year for the No. 24 in NASCAR.

“I certainly hope so,” Gordon said. “We came out strong in the season and then we fell off on the 1.5-miles, and we’ve been climbing out way back. I’m so proud of the work that’s been done with this team to make some gains. I think we made some big gains, and we showed that last week at Kansas. I think we showed a little bit of it at Charlotte, as well, even though the results weren’t there. I think the performance has definitely picked up in a big way, and that’s a big part of it, in my opinion.

“And then we’ve got to make sure that we follow that up by putting ourselves in position at the right time. The last time we were at Pocono, the No. 24 car was good. So we look at those notes and try to carry some of that over. But a lot has changed. The competition has definitely stepped things up (with) some of the technology and aero package and different things that we have that we’ve learned over the offseason to this point can also changes things; plus the shifting. So we’ll see.”

Gordon has earned the name “Mr. Brickyard” for obvious reasons. Not only did he win the inaugural NASCAR race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994, he backed it up with victories in 1998, 2001 and 2004. Not only was he the first NASCAR “winner” at Indianapolis, he was also the first two-time, three-time and four-time champion of NASCAR’s annual summer trip to the “World’s Greatest Race Course.”

Gordon has nine top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in 17 starts at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Since his last victory at Indianapolis, Gordon has finished eighth in 2005, 16th in ’06, third in ’07, fifth in ’08, ninth in ’09 and 23rd last year.

That is why his victory at Pocono on June 12 can be a precursor to success at Indianapolis in 2011.

Both Pocono and Indianapolis are “flat” 2.5-mile tracks that are shaped unlike any other on the schedule. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway features four distinct corners with Turns 1 and 2 and Trns 3 and 4 separated by two short straightaways known as “chutes.” A road-course racing style works well at Indianapolis.

Because of Pocono’s unique triangle shape, the key to getting around the track used to be driving it like a road course. That meant shifting in the turns in order to keep the rpm and torque up on the engine of the race car. But in recent years, NASCAR instituted new rules for the rear-end ratio in an effort to keep the engines from failing. With those rules, shifting was not required once the race cars were up to speed. The result was more fuel-mileage contests.

For some of the newer drivers, shifting on big track like Pocono was something different. But according to Gordon, it’s not a difficult technique. In fact, look for some of these drivers to try shifting when the series heads to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400 at the end of July.

With the change to the race cars since the last time drivers shifted into gear running laps around this track, the nature of when to shift has changed.

“What they were doing the last time we were here was difficult,” Gordon said of Pocono. “And the guys that were doing it, I still shake my head at it because it was a huge jump from fourth to third and it got your attention. I tried it, and I said, ‘No, thank you.’ There is no way I’m doing this for 500 miles. But some guys did. And I think that now that we have the proper gearing, it should be fairly straightforward and simple. So I don’t think there is any advantage.”

NASCAR changed the rear-end ratio rules this year, and shifting was back in vogue at Pocono for the first time since 2007. Ironically, that is the last time Gordon scored more than one victory in a season.

“I’m glad it’s back,” Gordon said. “To me, I wasn’t a fan of when they (NASCAR) took it away. I feel like I have an opportunity to grab that third gear to get a little bit better launch up off the corner. I think it challenges you in a way as a driver and the team, to work on the car to be able to do that. And so I think that just kind of adds another set of skills in there that I think are important, especially here at Pocono, as well as more opportunity to pass. I think it gives you more opportunity there. And I think that’s important because we’ve seen how track position is so important and getting your car to be able to turn down underneath somebody and then grab that gear to be able to try to make a pass I think is important.

“Some guys were shifting the last couple of times we were here with the old transmission. I don’t know how they were doing it. I wasn’t one of them, and we were still fast. But to me, it makes sense to have the right third gear in there. To be able to shift with that really works for you all the way around this place.”

Gordon’s resurgence is important to the sport because he is a marquee name who has been overshadowed recently by other drivers. But the biggest shadow cast over Gordon has been that of teammate Jimmie Johnson, winner of the last five Sprint Cup championships.

With two victories already this season, four-time NASCAR Cup champion Gordon can pretty much pencil himself in to NASCAR’s “Chase for the Championship” in 2011.

There are two “wild card” entries going to two drivers positions 11-20 with the most victories, so two wins will be enough for Gordon to gain entry into the 12-driver lineup. Of course, if he finishes in the top 10 after the 26th race of the season (Richmond, Sept. 10) Gordon will make the Chase anyway. But with his latest victory at Pocono it virtually assures that he will get in based on his second victory. He’s 12th in the standings after 15 races this season, just 17 points behind Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer, tied for ninth.

Given a choice, however, Gordon wants to be in the top 10 after Richmond rather than depend on the “wild card.”

“Nobody wants to get in on a wild card; I mean, not unless you have five wins and we just had a bunch of bad luck,” Gordon said. “I feel like we certainly have a shot at it. And there are two ways to go about it. We need to win more races, and I think that’s the key factor because if we win more races, that I think could get us into the top 10. And if it doesn’t get us into the top 10, I think it will get us in with a wild card. So we’re focused on winning races.”

Gordon won’t have to worry about making The Chase because he pretty much assured himself of a spot with his 84th career victory. That ties him with NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip, who was named to the latest class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame last week.

Gordon is a sure-bet to join Waltrip and the other legends already inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame when his driving career comes to an end. And he would love nothing better than to have a fifth and even sixth Brickyard 400 victory on his list of career accomplishments when that day arrives.


2011 Brickyard 400 tickets: 2011 Bricky

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