August 16, 2014 at 7:16 pm

Jeff Gordon again tops 200 mph in lead-up to Sunday's race at MIS

Brooklyn— Jeff Gordon has turned back the clock and is a legitimate contender for the Sprint Cup championship.

Gordon, 43, is a four-time Sprint Cup champion, his final one coming in 2001, also the last year he won a race at Michigan International Speedway when he dominated the race from the pole, leading 143 of 200 laps.

Gordon finished second in the fight for the championship in 2007, then third in 2009 while he had consecutive runner-up finishes at MIS. His best finish in the title hunt was sixth last season when he won once and had two poles.

Gordon has 90 wins, more than any active driver during a career which started late in the 1992 season.

Gordon already owns two wins and as many poles this season, and will start Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 from the pole, a big difference from a year ago when he started the June race from the 29th spot, finishing 39th, and then starting 13th in August, finishing 17th.

“We’re having a lot of fun right now,” said Gordon after winning the pole Friday with an MIS track record speed of 206.558 mph. “This is a really good race car. This is our Brickyard 400 car, so it’s a fast one, and let’s hope we can keep it going fast all day on Sunday.”

Gordon won the Brickyard 400 last month and also reached Victory Lane in May at Kansas City.

Gordon had things going right again Saturday, leading the field during the final practice session with a lap of 200.156 mph, the lone driver to top the 200 mph mark.

Sponsors are jumping on board, wanting to be a part of Gordon’s success. 3M will be leaving Greg Biffle at the end of this season, joining Gordon next year.

“I’m very excited about adding 3M to the No. 24 team and Hendrick Motorsports,” Gordon said. “We went and visited their facility. It’s amazing what they’re capable of doing and the things that they’re involved with. And we already use many, many of the products at Hendrick Motorsports in building our Sprint Cup cars. We can’t wait to take that relationship to a whole other level. They really know what this sport is about. We’re excited to have them on board.”

Gordon felt he had a car capable of winning the June race at MIS. He led 36 laps before finishing sixth.

“We had a good race car the last time we were here, a very good race car, a winning car in my opinion,” Gordon said. “A lot of it was restarts. We just did not get the restarts that we needed. That’s on me. And then, maintaining track position; so a little bit with some pit strategy and how we’re going to strategize for this race.

“We learned a lot the last time we were here. You can’t predict the cautions, it’s not like a road course. You can almost run this race like a road course, but not quite with the speeds that we’re carrying.”

Gordon will meet with his crew chief Alan Gustafson to work on strategy for race day.

“I’m looking forward to spending some time with Alan Gustafson (crew chief) and our engineers to talk about what we can do to maintain that track position from a pit strategy standpoint, and then I know they’re going to be leaning on me hard to try to also maintain that on the restarts,” Gordon said.

Gordon held the points lead for an eight race stretch, taking over the top spot after the Pocono race on June 8 until last weekend at Watkins Glen when he finished 34th, falling to second in points behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Another of Gordon’s Hendrick teammates, six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, ended his 0-for-24 streak at MIS by winning the June race.

Now, Gordon wants what Johnson owns, a win on the two-mile super speedway to give him another step to another Sprint Cup title.

dgoricki@detroitnews.com

Jeff Gordon driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet puts his arms up as he exits his car, Friday Aug. 15, 2014, during qualifying for Pure Michigan 400, at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. Jeff Gordon won the pole for Sunday's race. / Steve Perez / The Detroit News