Advantage 24? A confident Jeff Gordon has all the momentum heading into the title decider and is looking to cap off his legendary career with a championship Sunday.
Hollywood couldn't script it any better. After struggling through the regular season following the announcement of his imminent retirement, Gordon has fought his way into the title decider and is on the fringe of a fifth title. His illustrious career already includes four championships, but none in the Chase era and it's been 14 years since the driver of the No. 24 has sat at the head table.
I think it was definitely an advantage for us, and it's one that we needed because we've been behind ... I can honestly say that I feel like we've improved our chances on Sunday because of it.
Jeff Gordon on Martinsville win
There have been some close brushes with the ever- illusive fifth championship - 2004, 2007, 2009, and even 2014. Homestead will be his final shot before officially hanging up the helmet but Gordon isn't feeling any pressure, only excitement ahead of his final drive.
Overcoming regular season struggles
Statistically, this is one of the worst seasons of Gordon's career, but a step up in performance come Chase time has salvaged what could have been a disappointing way for the NASCAR icon to end his career.
"I was pretty disappointed," he said of the first 26 races. "I mean, it wasn't that we ever stopped working hard on it and trying to improve our cars, improve our team, improve our communication, and we had some rough patches along the way, but when we got close to Chicago, I started seeing pieces fall together that really showed the strength of our race team, and then of course we kicked it off with a really fast car and solid run at Chicago, and that gave us all confidence in what we were bringing to the racetrack.
"We've been very consistent, we just haven't been as fast as what we need to be. That's steadily been improving, and the execution and consistency has stayed there throughout the whole Chase."
An invaluable test
Gordon dominated last November's race at Homestead, leading more than half the race. Thanks to several rule changes though, that dominance will mean nothing going into this weekend's race. What will be valuable is a test conducted by his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"The cars have changed a lot. A lot less power now, less downforce in the car and balance, so what we're really going off of a lot right now is that Dale Earnhardt Jr. tested here and has data, and so we can compare the data and the setups from last year to this year and get some pretty good information that gives us a good direction for where we need to go for Friday, for Saturday and for Sunday."
In order to win a championship now, it's conceivable to think that one of these four will have to win this race. Up until a chaotic 500-miler at Martinsville a few weeks ago, Gordon had yet to reach Victory Lane this season.
Getting a head start
His triumph at the Paper Clip could pay major dividends at Homestead, knowing that Hendrick Motorsports needed to step it up in order to go toe-to-toe with Harvick here, who has 22 top fives after 35 races to Gordon's five. After winning in Virginia, Gordon and company were able to get a two-week jump on their rivals in regards to preparation for the finale. That could prove crucial in who ends up victorious when the checkered flag flies in Southern Florida.
"I think it was definitely an advantage for us, and it's one that we needed because we've been behind. What we were able to do was take a car out of rotation that was going to go to Texas and look at what our competitors are doing, and we're analyzing things all the time from our competitors to try to figure out where we're getting beat.
"We're also looking internally at what we can do to just make everything better and faster, and so that was a nice luxury to be able to have a nice position to be in because we needed it. And now I can honestly say that I feel like we've improved our chances on Sunday because of it."