Brooklyn, Mich. — With each passing race, Jeff Gordon is looking more and more like the driver to beat for the Sprint Cup championship.
Gordon, 43, won the pole Friday by setting a track record at Michigan International Speedway, then passed Joey Logano for the lead on the final restart with 17 laps remaining Sunday to win the Pure Michigan 400.
It was the third win of the season and second in the past four races for Gordon, who also won the Brickyard 400 July 27 in the same Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. He earned his 91st career win, holding off Kevin Harvick (Chevrolet) by 1.41 seconds. Logano (Ford) finished third and was followed by Paul Menard (Chevrolet) and Gordon’s teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Chevrolet).
If history repeats itself, Gordon could become a five-time Sprint Cup champion when the Chase — the final 10 races for the championship — is completed Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The Chase begins Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway. Gordon won at Indy and MIS in 2001, his last championship, and won at both sites in 1998 when he won the title.
Gordon and Logano were driving the elite cars all day, with Gordon leading for 68 laps, including the final 17. Logano, competing in the Ford for Roger Penske, led 86 laps around the two-mile superspeedway.
“That last restart was it and we had the car to win, our car was amazing, but whoever got out front had such a huge advantage,” said Gordon, who won at MIS for the first time since 2001. “You know I got a good restart and Kevin for some reason wasn’t getting good restarts so Joey was sort of out there by himself and I was able to get to his quarter (panel) and when I got to his quarter I drug him back and I was able to shoot to the bottom and get by him.
“He (Logano) made a heck of an effort and I thought he was going to get back by me and he almost did. I just needed a couple of laps for my tires to come in and all of sudden we were out front, setting sail and the checkered flag was waving. This is just unbelievably awesome.”
So, why has Gordon had so much success this season?
“I have to give so much credit to Alan and his crew,” praised Gordon of his crew chief Alan Gustafson. “This guy is such a great leader and I knew he had this in him. He’s been showing it by bringing great race cars every weekend and today it was more than just a great race car. It took the whole team effort, making great calls, and of course I had a good restart again and that was fun. (Car owner) Rick Hendrick’s here and I love celebrating wins with him.”
Hendrick talked of Gordon’s success.
“It’s great to see Jeff so happy,” Hendrick said. “He’s like a little kid again so I think it’s going to be really important for the momentum he’s carrying right now into the Chase so we’re excited.
“I think what I see now with Jeff today is how smart he is. If someone gets in front of him or is trying to block him like they did today, instead of pushing the envelope like maybe he did in the early years, he’ll just back off and let them use their stuff up and then just pass him. You just don’t see him make any mistake and I think all of his years of experience is paying off right now.”
Harvick had no regrets, but Logano did.
“We had a solid day, but the 24 had more speed than we did all day,” said Harvick, who also finished second in the June race at MIS.
Logano was obviously disappointed, saying: “I won every single restart until the last one and that’s pretty frustrating. My strong point was Turn 1 all day and the 24’s worst spot. (After Gordon passed me), I almost got him back in Turn 1, but couldn’t clear him.”
Logano was also trying to get his third win of the season, but had to finish for another strong finish. He was fifth at Indy, third at Pocono and sixth last weekend at Watkins Glen.
The race had numerous crashes during the final 35 laps around the two-mile superspeedway, setting up restart after restart after restart.
First, Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski suffered a right front flat on Lap 167 in his Ford, sending him crashing into the wall.
On the re-start, Kurt Busch’s Chevrolet got loose while challenging Logano for the lead, sending him crashing into the wall.
Then, Brian Vickers got loose on the following restart to bring out the eighth caution of the day, leading up to the final 17 lap shootout between Logano, Gordon, Menard, Harvick and Dale Jr.
“Those restarts are so crucial, but also intense here with the speeds that we’re carrying and I’m just proud of the effort,” Gordon said. “As a driver, especially somebody that’s been getting beat up over the years about restarts, it’s pretty nice to have the last two wins come down to restarts so that’s just really building all of our confidence in what we’re doing and making these races a lot of fun to go to.”
Gordon overtook his teammate, Kasey Kahne with 17 laps remaining on a restart to win the Brickyard 400.