Commentary

Jeff Gordon eyes fifth Brickyard win

Updated: July 26, 2012, 6:11 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

For more than a decade, Jeff Gordon has worked on a familiar quest -- the Drive for Five. His fourth Cup championship was 11 years ago.

He has a different Drive for Five this weekend. He still wants to become the first driver to win the Brickyard 400 five times.

And the truth is one Drive for Five could save the other one. There's more than history on the line for Gordon on Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If he hopes to have any shot this season at that fifth title, winning Sunday is almost a necessity.

Time is running out on Gordon's Chase chances in 2012. He's 17th in the standings and winless, not a good place to be with seven races remaining before the 10-race playoff begins.

His only realistic shot of making the Chase now is to win races, probably twice before the playoff field is set. It's time to go all out.

"We're not afraid to take some risks," Gordon said. "Each race that goes by without a win [means] the more risk we are willing to take. But I feel like we're still a long way from being out of this thing."

[+] EnlargeJeff Gordon
Getty ImagesJeff Gordon puckered up again in 2004 after winning his fourth Brickyard 400.

Indy is the place to prove it. Gordon's Indy legacy is secure.

He won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 at age 23 (one year from his first championship) in what he considers his hometown track. His parents moved from Vallejo, Calif., to Pittsboro, Ind., (about 20 miles west of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) when he was a young teenager so he could advance his racing career.

Gordon became the only four-time Indy winner in a stock car in 2004, but he hasn't won there in the past seven Brickyard events.

"We ran well [at Indy] last year," said Gordon, who led 36 laps en route to a runner-up finish to Paul Menard. "A lot has changed since then, but I'm hoping we can take what we've learned and be even faster, even better this year."

Gordon's position in the standings is misleading. He has raced near the front most of the season, but the No. 24 Chevy team has experience more bad breaks along the way than any other team this year.

A few examples: He blew an engine in the Daytona 500, ran out of gas before a pit stop at Sonoma, dropped a cylinder at Kansas, cut a tire at Bristol and Richmond, wrecked at Talladega and got spun out by Clint Bowyer on a final restart at Martinsville while battling for the win.

Former Cup champion Dale Jarrett, a two-time winner at Indy, said he has never seen anything quite like it.

"They've had a tremendous run of unfortunate luck," Jarrett said. "To win any title or be competitive, you have to have some good fortune on your side.

"I think Jeff is still as talented as he ever was, but they're going to have to dig a little deeper here. I know he's driving every lap as hard as he can. They just need to have some good fortune. This weekend would be a great place for him to kind of turn things around."

Gordon has finished sixth or better in four of the past five races, but consistency isn't good enough now. It probably won't get him into the top 10 -- the drivers who make the Chase on points. Gordon has to win to earn one of the two Chase wild-card spots.

"Obviously, our season hasn't gone the way we hoped it would," Gordon said. "We've shown a lot of speed, and we're capable of leading laps. We just haven't come up with the results.

"But I feel like we've turned a corner. I feel like, the last few weeks, we've put some good results together and we're getting to the finish with the car in one piece and having good runs. These next several weeks are crucial for us. We've got a bunch of tracks coming up where we're definitely capable of winning."

No better place than the Brickyard. His record on the 2.5-mile rectangle ranks him among the best drivers ever to strap into a race car on the historic track:

• Four wins, 10 top-5s, 14 top-10s and three poles
• An average finish of 9.1
• Average running position of 12.9, sixth best
• Driver rating of 99.4, fifth best
• 360 green-flag passes, fourth best
• 803 laps in the top 15 (71.7 percent), sixth best

Gordon also is one of only four drivers who have raced in every Brickyard 400, along with Bobby Labonte, Mark Martin and Jeff Burton.

"Growing up here and going to the track numerous times as a kid, there is just something special about each trip here," Gordon said. "But that special feeling changes quickly when I get out on the track because this place is so challenging.

"The four corners look the same, but each is unique with different transitions and bumps. The car has to be good. We've had the best car, or one of the best cars, in each of the races we've won here."

Gordon had one of the best cars on the track several times this season, as well, but hasn't managed to win. It's now or never if he hopes to make the Chase.

"Is there urgency? Yeah, absolutely," Gordon said. "One win is great, but it's not going to get us into the Chase, I don't believe. I think most people look at us and think, 'Those guys don't have a shot.' We look at it as we're capable of winning multiple races. This is a good stretch of races for us to pull it off."

And a Drive for Five at Indy is just what he needs to keep the other Drive for Five alive in 2012.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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