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Gordon on verge of returning to Victory Lane

Tue., Feb. 24, 2009, midnight

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Rick Hendrick began his 25th season in NASCAR full of expectations for his storied organization.

He predicted newcomer Mark Martin would make all four of his drivers championship contenders, that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would find a comfort level at Hendrick Motorsports and Jimmie Johnson would continue his run through the NASCAR record books.

But for Jeff Gordon, his 17-year money man, the boss had a promise: Gordon would win again.

“Multiple races,” Hendrick insisted. “No doubt about it.”

So far, Gordon is 0 for 2. But the first two races suggest he’ll be back in Victory Lane very soon.

Gordon led 64 laps Sunday night before finishing second at Auto Club Speedway. The four-time series champion was unable to chase down winner Matt Kenseth over the closing laps, but he found some consolation: His No. 24 team is far ahead of where it was this time last year, when Gordon had his first winless season since his 1993 rookie campaign.

“I’m so excited about this race team right now,” he said. “I just think we’re head and shoulders above where we were. I know it’s just a couple races in, and this is one race. I love the way the car was driving.”

Some drivers coming off such a year might question how much longer they can race. Gordon, however, has used it to refire his passion and rebuild his commitment to winning.

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