Although the sport of stock car racing is measured in seconds and miles per hour, there's only one measure that matters most: winning.
While Jeff Gordon and his No. 24 Chevy team didn't wind up in Victory Lane at Loudon on Sunday, a fourth-place finish was certainly a needed boost for their NASCAR Sprint Cup championship efforts.
Sure, it was a somewhat bitter pill to swallow as Gordon led the most laps (78) in the 300-miler at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
However, when compared to last Monday's 24th at Chicagoland, a 20 position gain's almost like a win. His strong performance at Loudon on Sunday cotinuned the team's stellar flat, short track program as well as their handle of "The Magic Mile."
Still, that didn't mean that the 40-year-old Vallejo, CA native left Loudon satisfied with just a fourth-place effort.
"It is frustrating for everybody," Gordon said per SceneDaily.com's Bob Pockrass article. "I’m just glad we finished fourth."
Perhaps the first Chase race did some good to the DuPont/Drive to End Hunger crew, as it reminded Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson to net the best possible finish instead of gambling early on when the stakes are too high to risk valuable points.
In the case of Gordon's car and race, it was rather steady, as the No. 24 car was strong in clean air.
However, it was fuel mileage that hurt them again, but not in the same extent as the kickoff title race.
With just 70 laps remaining in the Sylvania 300, Gordon ran out of fuel, forcing him to dart down to pit road.
Initially thinking that he had enough fuel to mount a charge for the win, Gordon was informed by his team to conserve in order to finish the race.
All things considered, a fourth at Loudon could very well be the impetus with Gordon's bid for that elusive fifth driver's championship.
"To pull off a top-five, we got what we could out of it," Gordon said. “We didn’t need to take any chances like we did last week at Chicago. All we can do is look at the good side, and it is good that we made gains in the points."
Indeed, the No. 24 camp made tremendous strides with their title efforts with their solid showing on Sunday.
Instead of being 11th and having to claw their way to the front of the field, the four-time Cup champion now finds himself sitting fifth and just 23 markers behind points leader Tony Stewart.
Clearly, the Gordon and Gustafson pairing have been clicking on all cylinders in 2011, especially in the past few months which have seen wins at Pocono and Atlanta and just four finishes outside the top-10 since June.
Both driver and crew chief know they cannot afford a mediocre performance and showing down the stretch.
Tracks like Dover, Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega, and Martinsville are on deck, where the unexpected could very well happen to any of the Chase contenders, including Gordon. Yes, their track records at these venues are excellent and he's a past winner at all of those facilities.
That said, they're only as good as their most recent races at those tracks and it surely means there's room for improvement.
As the Sprint Cup series prepares for next Sunday's AAA 400, the No. 24 team looks to tremendously improve on their performance at Dover International Speedway.
Back in the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks in May, Gordon started 21st and only managed a 17th-place effort, a finish that hardly shouted "championship contender" on the Cup circuit.
Then again, that was May, when the team was still working on its chemistry and figuring out how to get the speed out of their new fleet of cars.
Dover hasn't exactly been a great track for NASCAR's "elder spokesperson," with his last top-10 finish happening two years and his most recent trip to Victory Lane dating back to June of 2001.
Still, anything is possible.
As long as the No. 24 Chevrolet Impala has Jeff Gordon as its driver and a dedicated team with a headstrong crew chief like Alan Gustafson, wins and titles will be within reach.