Jeff Gordon salvages 6th-place finish at Sonoma after running out of gas

If the back-to-back sixth-place finishes are any indication, Jeff Gordon's season is heading upwards. But man, Sunday's sixth-place finish at Sonoma could have been more if it wasn't for an empty fuel tank before his final scheduled pit stop.

After starting second, Gordon took the lead from pole-sitter Marcos Ambrose after 11 laps and led for 13 before being passed by eventual winner Clint Bowyer. However, Gordon didn't fade from the top 10, and hung near the front of the field.

While many teams, including A.J. Allmendinger and Martin Truex Jr., entered Sunday's race planning to make three scheduled pit stops, Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson tried to make it on two, especially as the first 82 laps of the race were run caution free. That meant that Gordon needed to stretch his first two tanks of fuel to the limit to make that final fuel tank last until the end, and he stretched it a little too far, running out of gas before he entered pit road.

Unlike Kevin Harvick, who coasted slowly to the pits after running out a half lap before his pit stop, Gordon was close enough to the pits that his car didn't crawl into his pit box. However, the time that Gordon lost was significant — he went from the front of the field to 15th.

Gordon, who had one of the fastest cars all weekend, was able to make up most of that ground thanks to the race's two late cautions as he sliced his way back into the top 10 and nearly into the top 5.

Just how significant is that sixth-place finish for Gordon? Sonoma was the 16th race of 2012, and it was the first time that Gordon has had back-to-back top-10 finishes this season. Yes, that's correct.

It may seem outright Juniorian to say that a win is coming for Gordon, but it looks like his finishes are starting to finally match the flashes of performance he's shown throughout the season. If it's in fact a positive trend for the four-time champion, who is now 18th in the points standings, his 2012 chances aren't done just yet.