TEAM DUPONT SHIFTS INTO 'DRIVE FOR FIVE' MODE LOUDON, N.H. (September 12, 2006) Following last year's absence from the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, Jeff Gordon and Team DuPont hope to celebrate the end of the 2006 season with a fifth.
TEAM DUPONT SHIFTS INTO 'DRIVE FOR FIVE' MODE
LOUDON, N.H. (September 12, 2006) Following last year's absence from the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, Jeff Gordon and Team DuPont hope to celebrate the end of the 2006 season with a fifth. Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway marks the first of 10 races that will decide this year's champion. Only two participants, Gordon and Matt Kenseth, have championships on their resume. Kenseth won the title in 2003 while Gordon's championship years were 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001. But all of those championships were under the old, season-long points structure, not the new 10-race Chase instituted by NASCAR in 2004.
Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart, the two previous Chase winners, are not eligible for this year's showdown. "Under the old system, you were battling three or four guys at this point in the season," said Gordon. "The key was to be consistent down the stretch. "The Chase has changed everything. Now you're dealing with 10 guys and you have to push every week, every race. I don't think our four championships under the old system is an advantage. "I'm in the same position as the other nine drivers; trying to win my first championship under this format."
In 23 career starts at the 1.058-mile track, Gordon has posted three wins, three poles, nine top-fives and 12 top-10's. He has led 15 races for a total of 1,070 laps, both records for the Cup Series at NHIS. But Gordon has not finished better than 14th in his last three races at the track, and that is a concern. "This has been a good track for us in the past, but we didn't run well here in July," said Gordon. "It's all about getting started on a high note, so we'll try a completely different setup package this weekend in an effort to turn it around."
Gordon, who missed the Chase in 2005, is certainly glad to be back in contention for another title. While a 31st-place finish at Richmond on Saturday night may have stopped some of the momentum the No. 24 team gained during the past month, he is optimistic about Team DuPont's chances during the final 10 races.
"Right now, I'm happy that Richmond isn't included in the Chase," said Gordon. "I do like the tracks that are in the Chase, and I like how this team is performing. I would have preferred to enter the Chase after a strong run in Richmond, but the important thing is we're in. Making it in was a season-long effort, and I'm proud of how this DuPont team performed and improved this year. We can breathe a little easier this week, but the intensity will pick up this weekend and remain through the final race.
"It's a whole new ball game now."