Following a tumultous regular season that saw Jeff Gordon struggling for consistency, the Chase has been somewhat brighter for the No. 24 team - at least with their 10th place points position.
For the first time in 2012, Gordon and his team are finally in the top-10 in points, a struggle that almost seems like an epic journey from the times of great adventurers of history and folklore. Despite their setback at Chicago, where they placed 35th in the Chase opener, the Drive to End Hunger/DuPont team have placed third at Loudon and second at Dover.
Although they're 48 markers behind points leader Brad Keselowski, there's seven races remaining and a few wild card events at Talladega and Kansas that could shake up the standings.
In addition to their strong performances at Dover and Loudon, there's a pair of runner-up finishes at Richmond and Atlanta as well as a third-place finish at Bristol.
While some in the media are already sticking a fork on Gordon's hopes for the title this year, there's still plenty of racing left. Right now, the only thing that the No. 24 team can do is score the best finish possible and let the points fall where they may once the checkered flag falls after each race.
Such was the case during Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover, where Gordon dealt with a middling No. 24 car in the top-10.
Struggling on short runs, it was during the long runs when the four-time Cup champ excelled. Additionally, his car, which didn't quite take off immediately on a green flag run, actually mustered enough gas to make the finish.
"It was a solid effort," Gordon said following the race. "The car was good from the start. We struggled a little bit on the shorter runs but we got it going. It was a good top three or four car. Then we really started struggling on restarts. The front tires really (had) no grip for the first 10 laps.
"To come home second, this is nice to follow up with what we had last week. We're running good, we were running good at Chicago, and I'm proud of this team. We're just taking a few steps in the points each week and we've got seven more weeks to get it done."
Indeed, Gordon's race was aided by a timely caution that put him in position to complete the race without a green-flag "splash 'n go" pit stop towards the finish.
With only 10 cars on the lead lap, Gordon was able to march his way from the bottom half of the top-10 to a strong second-place showing at "The Monster Mile."
Gordon then took notice to some critics, who've put their focus on the points leaders like Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin, citing how there's battles behind them with drivers still with a shot at the championship.
"You guys focus too much on the top guy and not enough on (the battle and margin with) fifth place," Gordon said. "We have to look very realistically at this point. It's only been three weeks in, two weeks since we had our issue in Chicago.
"We've gained a tremendous amount of points on fifth and sixth place. Our focus is top-fives and trying to win."
Just sixteen points separate Gordon from fifth place Tony Stewart, which is certainly a defecit that can be made up in a hurry at a track like Talladega Superspeedway, where almost anything goes.
Although the 86-time Sprint Cup race winner has won six times at the high banked venue, he's also returning to the track where a mid-race crash relegated his promising pole winning effort into a 33rd place finish.
Certainly, while all the headlines and accolades belong to Keselowski, who captured his fifth win of the year, along with Hamlin, another five-time victor on the Cup circuit, it could be a very interesting "Separation Sunday" at Talladega for the Chase contenders. Just one slip up in the lead pack could wipe out a few to perhaps all 12 challengers in one big crash.
While Gordon and his No. 24 team cannot absolutely control their destiny with this coming Sunday's running of the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at Talladega, they have 20 years of experience to look back on and a driver who's certainly competitive at restrictor plate racing.
Good fortune, a great qualifying effort, and fast pit stops have been the keys to Gordon's recent run of success since the late summer. Going from the brink of Chase seed elimination at Richmond to all the adventures sprinkled throughout the year, the No. 24 team could be quite the force at upcoming races at Talladega, Charlotte, and Kansas.
Still, it all comes down to Gordon, crew chief Alan Gustafson, and the Drive to End Hunger/DuPont crew at Hendrick Motorsports to take charge and attack at every possible opportunity for maximum points and wins. At best, this team could very well make a permanent home in the top-10 in points, with the focus being how well can the No. 24 team can finish once the 10 playoff races have been completed.
When all is said and done, perhaps emerging from that smoke (either from the crash or a burnout) is indeed Jeff Gordon, who's surely about to make legit noise in the Chase aside from a mustache and a promise to breakdance at Charlotte.