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4-time champ, Gordon, feels good about 2007 chances

Friday, November 2, 2007

By MIKE HARRIS

AP Auto Racing Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas -- A victory Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway would be something special for Jeff Gordon, and not just because the track is one of only two on the current NASCAR Nextel Cup schedule where he has yet to win.

The four-time series champion heads into the Dickies 500 -- the eighth of 10 races in the Chase for the championship -- holding just a nine-point lead over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.

Moreover, Johnson, the reigning Cup champion, is on a roll, arriving at the Fort Worth track with two straight wins and a ton of momentum.

"We've been trying extremely hard to get our first win here, and we've been so close the last three or four races that we've been here," said Gordon, who has five top-five finishes, including a runner-up finish in the fall of 2005 and a fourth-place run last spring, in 13 starts on the 1.5-mile Texas oval.

"We've been strong enough to pull off wins and we've had little glitches here and there that have cost us the win.

"Your ultimate goal is to come out of here with a strong finish, a top-five, and not have that bad day. But it would be awesome to start up front with how tough it is to pass here and track position being so important. To pull off that first win would be incredible, especially at this point in the Chase with everything on the line."

Gordon acknowledged Friday there is plenty of pressure when you're racing for a championship -- even for a four-time winner.

"Any time you're in a points battle, it's intense, every single moment you're on the track," Gordon explained. "The way the car is handling, the position that you're in, everything that is happening is going through your mind.

"There's just no points lead that's comfortable enough. It's almost better that it's close because, when it's a wider gap, sometimes you take an extra breath and think you've got room to relax and you really don't. That's when it reaches out and bites you."

Gordon even took the unusual step of avoiding media coverage of the championship battle during the past week.

"To me, it's almost tougher to go through the week of thinking about it than it is once the engine starts and you get in it and go," he said. "That's more the comfort zone.

"I didn't watch any racing shows during the week, I didn't read anything in the papers this week. I just wanted to enjoy a little bit of Halloween, but also be able to just take my mind off of everything and come here and be ready."

Johnson laughed when asked if he thinks Gordon is feeling extra pressure after going six years without a title.

"If he is, he's not showing it," Johnson said. "He's such a seasoned veteran. He wants his fifth one bad and I've seen him driving more aggressively, more intense. He wants this more than I've ever seen.

"I find it hard to believe that he's under any more pressure. I would take those extra three championships under my belt and use them as confidence."

The Chase format began in 2004, dividing the season into two parts.

Under the old points system, Gordon would be leading Johnson by an insurmountable 439 points heading into Sunday's race. Instead, a big points spread for Gordon was wiped away at the end of the 26-race "regular season" when NASCAR adjusted the points and seeded the 12 Chase drivers by wins during the season.

That made Johnson, who had six wins to Gordon's four at the time, the leader by 20 points heading into the Chase. Gordon surged back into the lead with consistency, but Johnson -- known for strong finishes in the Chase -- has put the heat on the leader with the wins at Martinsville and Atlanta.

"I like that it's close," Gordon said. "We just go out there and do our jobs and get the best finish that we can.

"Sure the pressure's on. With the points system the way it is now, with the Chase and the 10-race shootout, it starts out extremely tense because you want to see if you've got what it takes to separate yourself from the rest of the field. But then, when it starts to wind down to two or three or four guys, then that intensity starts ramping up again.

"With three races to go, especially with Jimmie winning the last two races, the pressure's really intense," Gordon said.

Oh yes, the other track where Gordon is winless? Homestead-Miami Speedway, home of the season-finale.



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