Gordon hopeful for 1st NASCAR title since 2001

Gordon enters the Chase tied with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Joey Legano as the second seeds after finishing the season just three points behind Brad Keselowski. (Colin E. Braley/AP).

TORONTO — Jeff Gordon likes his chances of finally being able to complete the "Drive For Five."

While Gordon has captured four NASCAR titles during his career, he hasn’t hoisted the trophy as the season’s champion since 2001. But the 43-year-old star driver believes he has the team to end that drought this season.

"I love our chances," Gordon said Wednesday at an event to promote the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the 10-race championship series on NASCAR’s top circuit. "We have an amazing team this year, we’ve had a great year.

"I look at the 10 races in the Chase and I think there’s a lot of tracks that suit us and I think this team is ready. I think our chances are the best they’ve been since the introduction of the Chase. I feel very capable of bringing this championship to the No. 24 Chevrolet team because of these guys, the cars they give me and the team we have."

Gordon, NASCAR’s top rookie in 1993, has come close to a fifth stock-car crown, finishing second in ’07 and third in 2004 and ’09. In 26 races this season, Gordon registered three wins, nine top-five finishes and a circuit-best 17 top-10 efforts.

The opening Chase event is Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. Gordon finished tied for second in the standings with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson and Joey Legano, just three points behind leader Brad Keselowski.

Gordon said Johnson, a six-time NASCAR champion, will be a driver to watch out for.

"You can never count them out," Gordon said. "They know how to elevate their game, they have the same resources we have and they know how to utilize those resources very well.

"Jimmy is one of the best out there, especially these last 10 races. These are all tracks that not only suit him but also suit them as a team."

For the first time ever, the Chase will feature a series of elimination rounds after every three races. It will lead to four finalists in a winner-take-all showdown in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16.

Gordon was part of a North American media tour promoting the kickoff of the Chase. The other 15 drivers participated in events across the U.S. and in Mexico City.

And Gordon was quick to credit his Hendrick Motorsports team for his success this season.

"We’re not young anymore and it’s pretty refreshing and rejuvenating for someone who’s 43 and been in the Cup Series as long as I have been," he said. "I don’t feel old, don’t get me wrong.

"It’s just when you’re surrounded by a bunch of kids who are kicking your butt all the time you want to believe you’ve still got it and sometimes you question it. But this year there’s no question with the car and team that I have … I believe, and my team most importantly believes, that they’ve got the right guy behind the wheel to get it done."

The five-foot-seven, 150-pound Gordon said experience gives him an advantage behind the wheel.

"Experience tells you to stick with what you know, what has worked so well for you to get there and try not to ever waver too much from that," he said. "But also you have to be open-minded enough to roll with the times and technology.

"I think the best drivers, no matter their age, know how to find that and stay within that. I feel it’s something that has given me longevity."

It’s not uncommon for NASCAR drivers to compete well past their 40th birthday. The legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr. won his only Daytona 500 — NASCAR’s premier event — in 1998 at the age of 46. Tragically, he died at 2001 edition of the Daytona 500.

But medical issues had Gordon seriously doubting he’d still be racing past 40.

"When I started to have my back issues around 35, 36 years old I did think that pain I was going through could be career-ending and I might not race past 40," he said. "I made that comment one time and have regretted ever since because now I’m 43 and having the time of my life."

Both IndyCar and Formula One have race dates in Canada while NASCAR’s top-flight schedule is entirely based in the U.S. NASCAR’s Nationwide Series held events in Montreal from 2007 through to 2012.

Gordon is helping design Canadian Motor Speedway in Fort Erie, Ont., which is projected to include both a 1.6-kilometre oval track and 4.2-kilometre road course. Gordon believes stock-car racing could flourish in Canada.

"There’s definitely an appetite for it," he said. "There’s a lot of NASCAR fans in Canada, we see them at some of our races like Michigan, New Hampshire and Watkins Glen.

"If we could actually have one facility that was truly built for Nationwide and Cup Series that could also handle the Canadian Tire Series and other forms of racing in Canada, I think it would be a home-run for everybody."

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