Gordon running hard to find old magic at MIS

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Brooklyn, Mich. — Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon is making his final pit stop at Michigan International Speedway.

And as he fights for a spot in The Chase, he'd love to end up in the same position he was in at the Pure Michigan 400 last season — Victory Lane — to advance to the 10-race playoff.

"I have always enjoyed this track," said Gordon, who struggled Friday, qualifying 21st at 193.009 mph, nearly 4.5 mph slower than pole-sitter Matt Kenseth. "It felt very natural here. We have had great success here."

Gordon, who is 14th in the points standings heading into Sunday's race, has three victories at MIS and set the qualifying record last August (206.558 mph).

But all thoughts are on Sunday and securing a spot in The Chase.

"(MIS has) been a track that not only have we been fast at and won a few times at, but we have put some pretty nice, consistent finishes together," said Gordon, 44.

There is, however, a different feel this year.

NASCAR officials have installed a new high-drag aerodynamic package for the race, which could keep speeds down.

"It's anything but wide open," Gordon said of operating his No. 24 Chevrolet under the new rules. "I'm not wide open. Maybe that's why I'm not higher up on the board. ... I really wish we were because I think in order for this package to get the most out of it, you need to easily be wide open, so you can really utilize that draft.

"You are going to be able to utilize the draft, especially on the restarts, but when you get to the corner, we are still doing 190-plus mph when we get there. There is a lot of turbulent air there. We are going to be fanned out and finding clean air and then trying to get that tow down the straightway. It's going to be a totally different Michigan, I feel like, than what we have ever had."

Gordon, however, has struggled overall lately.

He finished 42nd in the Brickyard 400 on July 26 and 41st last weekend at Watkins Glen, sandwiched between a third place at Pocono Aug. 2. He also had a tough time the last time he was at MIS in June, finishing 21st after starting sixth.

"I just want to finish a race where I'm capable of running," Gordon said. "What we can't do is have problems that we've had; you can't get caught up in a wreck like we did at Indy. You can't have a brake issue like we had last week. We can't be finishing 30th and 40th.

"It's not like we have to win. We want to win and we're working hard to do that. But we know that top-10s are plenty good enough."

As for retirement, Gordon said he doesn't feel he will get emotional until the final race of the season — at Homestead.

Unless he wins at MIS on Sunday.

"I guess it doesn't sink in as much right now because I'm just so focused on thinking about the car and the track and the race and the setup and what my job is to do this weekend," said Gordon, who was given a four-night package to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island as a going-away present from MIS president Roger Curtis.

"I'm not really allowing myself to go there. I think it would be emotional if I won the race knowing it would be my last time here. I think that it would probably sink in at that moment."

david.goricki@detroitnews.com

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Pure Michigan 400 lineup

1. Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 197.488 mph
2. Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 196.99
3. Carl Edwards, Toyota, 196.276
4. Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 195.918
5. Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 195.477
6. Kyle Busch, Toyota, 195.45
7. Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 195.249
8. Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 195.228
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 194.884
10.Joey Logano,Ford, 194.405
11. Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 194.133
12. Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 193.606
13. David Ragan, Toyota, 193.632
14. Brad Keselowski, Ford, 193.554
15. Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 193.476
16. Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 193.309
17. Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 193.309
18. Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 193.149
19. Ryan Blaney, Ford, 193.128
20. Greg Biffle, Ford, 193.029
21. Jeff Gordon,Chevrolet, 193.009
22. Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 192.921
23. Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 192.771
24. Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 192.622
25. Trevor Bayne, Ford, 192.005
26. AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 191.826
27. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 191.586
28. Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet,191.367
29. Jeb Burton, Toyota, 190.713
30. Aric Almirola, Ford, 190.527
31. Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 190.049
32. Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 190.049
33. Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 189.384
34. Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 189.23
35. Cole Whitt,Ford, 189.091
36. David Gilliland,Ford, 188.927
37. J.J. Yeley, Toyota, owner points
38. Brett Moffitt, Ford, owner points
39. Michael Annett, Chevrolet, owner points
40. Casey Mears, Chevrolet, owner points
41. Josh Wise, Ford, owner points
42. Travis Kvapil, Chevrolet, owner points
43. Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, owner points