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Notebook: Remarkable run at Richmond has shaped Jeff Gordon’s Chase plan

The SportsXchange

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

CHICAGO, Ill.-In his dramatic run to the final Chase position last Saturday at Richmond, Jeff Gordon got a glimpse of the future.

The amazing turnaround of a car that was junk when the race started but capable of driving through the field to second place by the time it ended provided a blue for the way Gordon will run the 10 races in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

In Gordon's view, falling off the lead lap into the 27th spot before rain stopped the race for 51 minutes might have been a blessing in disguise. Under caution during the rain delay, Gordon's crew disconnected the rear sway bar, making a quantum improvement in the handling of the No. 24 Chevrolet.

"Sometimes, actually, it's the best thing that can happen to you," Gordon said of the car's poor performance early in the race. "The worst thing that can happen is you being 10th, because you're like, ‘OK, we're 10th, or sixth, and we'll just fine-tune. We don't want to lose track position, and we're just going to fine-tune air pressure, little adjustments,' and you never really get it where it needs to be.

"When you're 20-whatever and a lap down, you go, ‘We've got nothing to lose here. It's all or nothing. Let's make some wholesale, huge changes.' That's usually when you have a better chance of actually hitting on something."

As it turned out, Gordon's crew hit on just enough to earn the second wild card spot in the Chase by three points over Kyle Busch. And the way the Richmond race played out will shape his Chase strategy.

"What we learned from that is that we've got to go out every weekend of these next 10 weeks and be fully committed pursuing winning," Gordon told the NASCAR Wire Service at the Chase Media Day Wednesday at the House of Blues. "If we're in fifth, we've got to have that same attitude, like we're 26th. We have got to just absolutely go after it, even if we have to lose track position, (to) get that car where it needs to be.

"If it's only track position we need, then OK, let's do that. That's what we've learned, and that's our goal, and we really don't have anything to lose."

BRING BACK THE STACHE

Gordon will have one new addition for the Chase, but it won't be a member of his crew. Earlier this season, Gordon vowed that, if he made the Chase, he would grow the sort of moustache he sported as a rookie in 1993.

After he snatched the final Chase spot, Gordon's wife Ingrid reminded him-and the rest of the world-in a posting on her Twitter account.

"My wife started all this, because she reminded me and Twitterville of the commitment I had made a month or a month and a half ago, whenever it was," Gordon said. "I meant it when I said it and hoped that we would be in this position to be in the Chase and sporting the ‘stache, so here we go. Get ready."

Tony Stewart suggested another element for Gordon's appearance.

"He's got to grow back the eyebrows to match it," Stewart offered. "It was kind of a matching set."

The member of the member of the No. 24 team with the most radical change in appearance, however, is Gordon's crew chief, Alan Gustafson.

"Alan said he'd shave his head," Gordon said, "so he shaved his head as well. So we're committed."

SMOOTH TRANSITION

Will the replacement of a key member of his team be a challenge for Clint Bowyer, as the driver of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota enters the Chase?

Bowyer doesn't think so, and on Wednesday at the House of Blues, he talked about the addition of Brett Griffin, who will take the place of MWR general manager Ty Norris on the spotter's stand, starting this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

Griffin's voice won't be unfamiliar to Bowyer. When he and Jeff Burton raced as teammates at Richard Childress Racing--where Burton and Bowyer paired up in restrictor-plate events--Griffin spotted for the tandem.

Griffin, who serves as NASCAR Nationwide Series spotter and business manager for Elliott Sadler, lost his job as Burton's spotter after Sadler announced plans to leave RCR at the end of the season despite leading the NASCAR Nationwide standings.

Burton's loss is Bowyer's gain, and Griffin comes to the No. 15 team with Burton's strong endorsement.

"It's going to be fun," Bowyer told the NASCAR Wire Service. "I like Brett. We've been friends off the race track for a long time. I've got a lot of confidence in him. I talked to Jeff Burton a lot about him, and he was like, ‘Hire him--hire him in the morning. Hire him right now.' I've just got a lot of confidence in him. I don't think it'll be a transition at all because we know each other so well, and he does such a good job where he is.

"I've listened to him a lot, and most of the things I ask for, he does. I wanted to make sure Ty was OK with it, because, first and foremost, Ty helped me get where I'm at in so many different levels. I didn't want to take anything from him. If he wanted to be a part of that, I wasn't about to make a change until next year. But the opportunity came up, and Ty kind of wants to focus on his job and make sure all three cars are running well. I think it'll just be a good thing."

Griffin announced the job change on Twitter, and Bowyer responded by feigning surprise.

"I was just screwing with Brett," Bowyer said. "He announced it, and I was like, ‘What?!' It was kind of funny, but that's the kind of relationship we have. That's why I don't think there'll be any transition period. It'll be business as usual.

"And I've worked with him before at Talladega. In the tandem races, when Burton and I ran together, he was the spotter I used. I've worked with him, so I know what I'll have-it'll be fun."

ACCENTUATE THE NEGATIVE?

Watch out for Tony Stewart.

The defending Cup champion isn't brimming with optimism about his chances for a fourth title this year. Then again, Stewart was about as negative as he could be last year when assessing his prospects-before grabbing the championship with five victories in the Chase.

So if Stewart is downplaying his chances this season, take it with a grain of salt.

"I'm a little bit pessimistic again," Stewart said. "I don't feel like we're as good as we need to be right now, but I feel like we're in a better position than we were last year. But I still don't feel like we're exactly where we need to be."

Stewart, however, knows better than to discount the possibility of a second straight title, given what he was able to accomplish last year.

"I think it definitely gives the approach of not giving up hope on it, for sure," Stewart said. "But, like you say, every season is different, and it doesn't mean that it's a guarantee that it can happen again this way for us.

"We've still got to go out and run our 10 races and do the best we can."
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