Loudon: Jeff Gordon - NASCAR spotlight

Gordon applying pressure to Kenseth DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 15, 2003) -- Matt Kenseth's lead in the NASCAR Top 10 is substantial, but by no means is it secure. Not with four-time champion Jeff Gordon lurking in second place. Coming into ...

Gordon applying pressure to Kenseth

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 15, 2003) -- Matt Kenseth's lead in the NASCAR Top 10 is substantial, but by no means is it secure. Not with four-time champion Jeff Gordon lurking in second place.

Coming into Sunday's New England 300, Kenseth's (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford) 165-point lead is the eighth-largest spread at the mid-point of the season since the current point system began in 1975. Six of those seven drivers who had larger leads at the mid-point went on to win the NASCAR Winston Cup championship.

Nonetheless, there's the Gordon factor to consider. In any season, if Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) approaches the top of the standings many people assume he'll eventually reach the top. And of course that's not what you'd call an unreasonable assumption.

Gordon, knows, however, that he has to hustle.

"I have to capitalize on Matt Kenseth's bad days if I'm going to make up ground in the points," Gordon said at Chicagoland Speedway, where he finished fourth on Sunday. "Unfortunately for us, Matt's 'bad day' at Chicago was a 12th-place finish."

This setting is starting to resemble last season when Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) took control of the points while many people expected Gordon -- then the defending series champion -- to make a successful second-half charge. Such settings are reminiscent of the seasons when seven-time titlist Dale Earnhardt was a perennial championship threat, worrisome no matter where he stood in the points.

Gordon, simply, remains the man to beat -- provided he doesn't beat himself.

"I can't worry about what the No. 17 and the No. 8 (third-place Dale Earnhardt Jr.) are doing; I just have to focus on what the No. 24 team can do," Gordon said.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart