Updated: April 28, 2014, 1:31 PM ET

Joey Logano Doubles Up At Richmond

Sprint Cup: Consistency fuels Gordon ... so far

By Brant James | ESPN.com

It's a pretty simple formula for Jeff Gordon, albeit not a easy one: Keep amassing top-5 finishes while avoiding the disastrous ones, hold onto the Sprint Cup points lead for a mere 16 more races and jaunt into the Chase for the Sprint Cup as a winless points leader in a season in which NASCAR has mandated winning as more important than ever.

The four-time series champion isn't sure he'll go that route, however. Or, rather, that he'll need to.

Though a proviso to the first-year system to seed the playoffs and determine the series champion allows for a winless points leader to advance into the field of 16 title hopefuls, another second-place finish Saturday at Richmond International Raceway has encouraged Gordon that he will soon ensure a spot with a win. That's a reasonable assumption after leading a race-high 173 of 400 laps and again putting himself in a late-race position for victory.

Jeff Gordon
Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsSprint Cup Series points leader Jeff Gordon has four top-5s and seven top-10s, but no wins.

"As good as we're running, I definitely feel like we can win races just about anywhere that we go, and if we continue to perform like this, we are going to win," said Gordon, who has four top-5s and seven top-10s in nine races. "That's how you win.

"There's sometimes when you just pick the right pit strategy. There's other times you get a good restart, and then there's times when you just go and outrun them. I'll take outrunning them more times than any because I think that's when the multiple wins are going to come."

Gordon leads winless Matt Kenseth -- who paced the series with seven victories last season -- by five points in the driver standings. He reached the quarter pole of the season as more than just a points leader in a season in which points are supposed to be devalued.

With the early-season run of new race winners halted at seven, the series' most prolific victors of 2014 are beginning to identify themselves. And subsequently the manic speculation over the amount of individual race winners has ended. Multiple drivers seem more likely to reach the Chase on points positions as the elite winners begin amassing victories.

Kevin Harvick followed a win at Phoenix with a second at Darlington to assure himself a playoff spot, and Joey Logano did the same by winning at Texas three weeks ago and Richmond on Saturday, following a boisterous last 10 laps battling Gordon, Kenseth and teammate Brad Keselowski.

With the series' top winners of 2013 -- including defending series champion Jimmie Johnson (six wins) -- yet to break through, nine drivers, stretching down to 14th-place Denny Hamlin, would advance to the Chase if it began tomorrow.

It doesn't. So Gordon knows he needs to begin converting near-miss runs into trophies. With an average finish of 6.8 -- Harvick is at 21.2 and in 20th place -- he led in the waning laps at Fontana and Richmond and until the final lap at Texas before being overcome by various circumstances, the most annoying a rash of tire failures that cost him a lead at Auto Club Speedway.

"Normally I'd be ecstatic with leading the points and where we're at and consistency, but right now those wins are just so important," he said. "I mean, I'd rather be 12th in points right now with three wins than be leading the points.

"We're running really good. I'm excited about that. And any time you're running this good consistently week in, week out on all different types of racetracks, it gives you confidence as a driver, as a team. But you also know, especially this year more than ever, you've got to go close that out."

Simple, but not easy.

Jeff GordonStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJeff Gordon led a race-high 173 laps at Richmond on Saturday but finished second to Joey Logano.

Brant James

Contributor, espnW.com
Brant James has covered the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, a World Series and Stanley Cup for the big hometown daily, an NCAA tournament and a Super Bowl. He's walked to the paddock with Kentucky Derby horses before post, ridden to the top of Mount Washington with Travis Pastrana and landed on an aircraft carrier with Dale Earnhardt Jr. He once induced Danica Patrick into a dance number from Moulin Rouge by saying the word "Switzerland." It's been pretty interesting so far.

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