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Top 20 Countdown: No. 8 Jeff Gordon

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the top 20 drivers of the 2012 season, as predicted by the Yahoo! Sports NASCAR staff – Jay Hart, Jay Busbee, Nick Bromberg and Geoffrey Miller. The countdown will conclude Feb. 17 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.

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2011 statistics
Finish Poles Wins Top 5 Top 10
8 1 3 13 18
The countdown
No. 7: Revealed Thursday, Feb. 9

2011 finish: 8th

Our 2012 predictions:
• Jay Hart: 3rd
• Jay Busbee: 8th
• Nick Bromberg: 8th
• Geoffrey Miller: 9th

Crew chief: Alan Gustafson

Offseason action: Eddie D'Hondt will serve as Gordon's spotter, replacing Jeff Dickerson. D'Hondt spotted for Kyle Busch last season.

2012 outlook: With the season count now at 10 since Jeff Gordon's last title, is it time to write him off as a championship contender?

Not if you ask him.

"We're rolling," he said during last month's media tour in Charlotte. "Things are going well. [Alan Gustafson's] fired up and he knows I'm fired up."

Yes, the fire still burns in Gordon, even at 40. There was a time a few years ago, particularly when his back was ailing, when it appeared his days in the Cup Series were numbered. That's not the case anymore. Gordon is healed, is as motivated as ever and believes that in Gustafson he has the best crew chief in the business.

It's hard to argue with the results those two had in their first season together – three wins and among the favorites heading into the 2011 Chase.

For nine months, Gordon appeared as qualified as anyone to win the 2011 title. But the Chase was a different story. He ran out of fuel in the opener, then blew an engine three weeks later at Kansas which effectively ended his title hopes before the playoff even reached the halfway pole.

On a dime, a promising season turned into a lost one. But it wasn't a total failure.

The three victories proved to Gordon that he could still win races, giving him a much-needed boost in confidence that had likely wavered after he'd gone winless in two of the previous three seasons. And in Gustafson he found the kind of partnership he hadn't had since the days of Ray Evernham.

It's Gustafson, more than anyone, who gives Gordon hope that the "Drive for Five" is still alive.

"You've gotta have confidence that that's the best guy working on the car and coming up with strategy and ideas and engineering, as well as they have to believe in the driver being the best driver to get the job done out there," Gordon said. "I feel like that's what we have this year."

Point of interest: When asked what motivates him after 20 years, Gordon explained there's nothing cooler than aspiring to win. Gordon said the only time he has ever been bored with racing was when he was 8 years old and winning 90 percent of his quarter midget races. Winning, he said, is still an amazing feeling. "Until I win 90 percent of the races," he explained, "that's gonna be the thing that motivates me."

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