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article imageNASCAR: Gordon wins at Dover, championship hopes end for four

By John Duarte     Sep 29, 2014 in Technology
Dover - Jeff Gordon continued his “drive for five” NASCAR championships with a win on the famed “Monster Mile” on Sunday. By winning the AAA 400, Gordon is on to the Contender Round in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“It wasn't about the points. It wasn't about just squeezing by to get to the next round,” Gordon said after the race. “It was about making a statement. I don't know how you make a bigger statement than what this team just did right here.”
Gordon charged into the lead of the race with 95 laps to go, leading the final 71 laps, and cruising to an easy win by crossing the finish line more than four seconds ahead of second place Brad Keselowski. Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson finished third in the AAA 400.
Gordon said that he was confident at the start of the race. He feels his car is reliable enough to be consistent and, more importantly, strong enough to win. The victory solidified that feeling of confidence, for himself and his team, heading into the next three races.
“We came in here with a little bit of extra pressure because we weren't guaranteed to be in (the Contender Round),” he said. “I think this is huge.”
This week's win was the 92nd of Gordon's career, putting him third all-time behind NASCAR legends Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105).
“I'm going to tell you the same thing I say every time I'm sitting here after a win — it's awesome to have 92, and I look forward to challenging for 93,” said Gordon when asked whether he thinks he'll get to 100 wins in his career. “I can't even think about 100 until I get to 99.”
He said his current focus is on winning the 2014 title. He admitted that he would be happy to get more wins, which he feels is what it will take to make a run at the championship. The 2014 Sprint Cup champion will be crowned in the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the final four drivers in the the Chase will run a one race playoff with the highest placed finisher winning the title.
“Right now, it's just — we're just laser focused on this championship and going to the next race,” he said. “It almost takes a win (in each round) to get to Homestead. That's our goal — getting to Homestead. Whatever it takes.”
While happy with the second-place finish this week, Keselowski, who won the opening round of the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup and immediately solidified his place in Round 2, said he can't sit and look back at the last three weeks.
“Three more races. A new start,” he said. “What we were able to do in these last three (weeks), other than getting us into the next round, really means nothing. We've got to keep our head on straight and push forward these next three like we have these last three.”
Johnson said finishing in third place at Dover was a good momentum builder heading into the Contender Round with the strategy being to win one of the first two races.
“Would love to win at Kansas or Charlotte to take Talladega out of the mix and not have to stress about that,” he said. “Otherwise you're just going to be on pins and needles and stressing like crazy.”
In past years, consistency, finishing races and accumulating points was the key to becoming Sprint Cup champion. The format adopted by NASCAR for 2014, resembling a playoff system in other sports, puts the emphasis on wins. The final 10-race shootout Chase for the Sprint Cup is divided into three three-race segments, with the winner of each race automatically advancing to the next round, and a one final race to decide the champion in the last race of the season.
Gordon said that while in previous years drivers could simply concentrate on finishing as best as possible and keep an eye on the long-term goal at the end of the year, this season is all about the next races — Kansas Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
“These next three races are going to be tougher than the last three, and it's going to be tougher after those three,” he said. “You do have to somewhat look at just the next three races and not look too far ahead because you've got to make it through to the next round. Right now, for me, I'm just thinking about Kansas and nothing else.”
The AAA 400, the last race in the Challenger Round, brought to an end the championship hopes of four drivers. Of the 16 that began the Chase, 12 remain. Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch were eliminated from this year's title run.
“If you're off, it's hard to put the car up on your back and run it,” a disappointed Busch said after the race.
Asked his impression of the playoff-style format implemented by NASCAR, Gordon stated there is nothing not to like.
“I'm liking the format,” he said. “Right now, when you have a car and team like we have, you like whatever format there is because you think you have a shit at (winning the championship).”
So it's on to the Contender Round in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup. The Hollywood Casino 400 runs at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 5, 2014.
Jeff Gordon | FindTheBest
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