With flecks of gray in his sideburns, it’s apparent that Jeff Gordon is long removed from those days as a hotshot young driver who seemed destined to win more NASCAR Cup championships than anyone.
Heck, not too long ago people were wondering if he was all washed up.
Well, look who’s in contention for a Sprint Cup championship.
Yep, the guy they used to call Wonder Boy.
“I just like the fact that you’re talking about that,” Gordon said Friday, chatting with a reporter outside his hauler. “That means things are happening for us. It’s been so long. I don’t know what it feels like anymore to win a championship.”
It’s been 12 long years, to be exact, since Gordon captured the last of his four titles.
But he heads into Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway ranking fourth in the points and hoping to take advantage of a track where the standings can change in a hurry.
“I don’t even know if I have the words to describe how much it would mean,” Gordon said. “The longer you’re in the sport, the more ups and downs you go through, the more meaningful the wins and the championships. Certainly nothing would top that.”
He knows he’s still a long shot, with Matt Kenseth and teammate Jimmie Johnson holding down the top two spots. Gordon trails Kenseth by 36 points and Johnson by 32 – a lot of ground to make up. The odds that both will suddenly go into a slump is a stretch, to say the least, and Kevin Harvick also stands between Gordon and the top spot.
But at Talladega, where restrictor plates lead to tight racing and big crashes, there’s always a chance to make a big move – up or down.
To make a run at Kenseth and Johnson, Gordon will likely need to win a race or two – something he hasn’t done all season.
Penske Racing swept the top three spots in qualifying for tonight’s season finale in Fontana, Calif.
Will Power won the pole and Helio Castroneves was second followed by AJ Allmendinger.
Scott Dixon, who qualified seventh, leads Castroneves by 25 points for the championship.
Denny Hamlin and Drew Herring will replace ailing Brian Vickers, who is receiving treatment for blood clots, in the No. 20 car for the final three races of the season.
Hamlin will start at Texas on Nov. 2. Herring will start Nov. 9 at Phoenix and the finale at Homestead Nov. 16.