Richmond Redux: Can Jeff Gordon Nab Third Track Victory?
While the 2011 season has been a somewhat inconsistent title campaign for four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, Saturday night's Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 might be the elixir that the 39-year-old racer may need to start his spring surge.
Richmond International Raceway has treated the No. 24 DuPont/Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet team really well in the past, as they've logged two victories, 14 top-fives, and 23 top-10's in their past 36 starts.
Just one look at their track record and there's a distinct possibility that Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson may nab their third victory at the famed .75-mile short track.
However, it's been 11 years since their last trip to the winner's circle at Henrico Valley, VA and last fall resulted in a somewhat disappointing 12th place finish.
Additionally, that result snapped a seven-race streak of consecutive top-10 finishes, a somewhat troubling sign considering their mediocre results during the Chase.
However, that was the past and Saturday night (Live at 7:30 PM ET on FOX) could be a great opportunity for the Vallejo, CA native to not only nab a win, but to also score points for a top-10 position heading towards the summer stretch.
Currently sitting 13th in the points standings, it's been an erratic year so far for Gordon, whose top finishes are a win at Phoenix, a third at Talladega, and a fifth at Martinsville.
Otherwise, they've struggled mightily at the intermediate tracks and have logged in a 36th-place DNF at Las Vegas, the third race of the season.
Moving forward to Saturday night's race, Gordon and his No. 24 team made a great case for a third victory at Richmond, with a strong sixth spot qualifying effort, their best starting position at a non-restrictor plate track in the past 10 races.
"Great effort for the DuPont Chevy," Gordon said per his Twitter account. "Qualified sixth and real happy with the car for the race. Looking forward to tomorrow night!"
Not only was the famed black and red flamed Impala fast in qualifying, but it was the fastest car in terms of 10-lap average.
Trailing Gordon were Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, and Jeff Burton.
Perhaps one reason explaining the relatively strong start to Gordon's race weekend at Richmond is that his team brought the same car that they used at Phoenix this past February.
That car, which carried the Drive to End Hunger liveries, found its way to Victory Lane after a somewhat subpar 20th qualifying effort and a brush with the wall early in the Subway Fresh Fit 500K race.
During the Sprint Cup series' most recent race, the Aaron's 499, the historical Talladega Superspeedway nearly played host to a trademark dramatic Gordon victory until the last lap.
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, with drafting help from Dale Earnhardt Jr., shot past him for the win, with Clint Bowyer scooting by Gordon on the final lap.
As a result, the No. 24 team relegated Gordon from a possible triumph to a somewhat heartbreaking third place result, the first time that the 83-time race winner was passed for the win on the last lap.
Redemption is perhaps the name of the game for Gordon, who also looks to capitalize at "sealing the deal" after last May's near victory in the final laps.
Sure, the favorites tomorrow night have to include pole sitter Juan Pablo Montoya, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who also may play a role in the title chase.
That said, if history surely repeats itself, than a perennial series favorite in Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 DuPont team have to certainly be considered as a certain contender in Saturday night's shootout at "The Action Track."