Five races into the 2014 Sprint Cup Series season and there have been five different winners.
How about six?
Jeff Gordon sure hopes so, and there are two very important reasons why Gordon’s first victory of the season could come in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
He and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson sit atop the track’s all-time wins list among active drivers with eight victories apiece. Most importantly for Gordon, he is also the most recent race winner at the track, having won last fall’s Cup race for his only victory of the 2013 season.
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The clock may be ticking on Gordon’s NASCAR career, but the time piece he is most interested in this weekend is a grandfather clock, which is given to the Martinsville winner.
Gordon said his win last October gave him added confidence at the half-mile track, as if he needed any.
“I have always had confidence here because we always run good and have been in position many times to win, but we didn’t. Whether the caution came out or other things that maybe happened,” said Gordon, who will start fifth on Sunday.
“So, I have always had confidence coming here because of laps led and having cars capable of winning. But when you actually finish first and you complete what you set out to do, it gives you added confidence and momentum going back to that track.”
Gordon’s win last October, while his eighth at the track, was his first here since 2005. What he found most promising about the win was that his longtime approach to success at the track had not changed much over the years.
“I found something that worked for me and I have been able to go back to when I come here, and not a lot has changed. I have mentioned that a lot of times, but this weekend there is the most drastic change I have seen in a long time because of the new ride height rules,” Gordon said.
“But for the most part, I think not a lot has changed as far as how you approach the way the cars are set up and how you drive the track since I first started coming here. It’s nice to have something that you have learned that has worked and you can come back with and make it work over and over again.”
While Gordon certainly is in good position to make it six different winners in six races to start the season, he is by no means the only strong candidate.
Johnson, who also has eight wins at the track, remains without a victory and also starts in the top five. In addition, front-row qualifier Denny Hamlin – also without a win this year – has four victories at the track, all since 2008.
The five drivers with wins already this season – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch – are all-but locked in the championship Chase thanks to NASCAR’s new title format.
The combination of drivers racing to increase their win total combined with drivers still trying to earn their first is likely ripe to produce on-track fireworks at a track like Martinsville.
“I think that there is such a huge advantage to them to be relaxed and go about business a different way than the rest of us who haven’t won yet,” Gordon said. “I think you always have to look at both sides of it.
“They are looking at it as ‘OK, we can be more aggressive with set-ups and what we can do to prep for the next race or winning the championship’, but you also have to remember there are a lot of other guys are out there that haven’t won yet and are really hungry to get that win because we see how important it is.”
Even more important than locking yourself into the Chase, Gordon said, is the freedom awarded a team that comes with a victory.
“We are all here to try and win the championship,” he said. “It is a huge step forward to winning the championship because of the mindset that you go into and how you approach each race after you have gotten a win.”