Jeff Gordon has found a sweet spot.
Whether it’s winning races or capturing poles – in this case, both in the same weekend – Gordon maintained his hot streak Sunday by taking NASCAR’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
It has been an exceptional few weeks for Gordon. He won at Indianapolis on July 27, then two races later, qualified first at Watkins Glen, N.Y.
But he trumped both this past weekend by winning the pole at Michigan in track-record time Friday, then holding off Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano for his third victory of the season. The win also moved Gordon back into first place in the standings by three points over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished fifth. Paul Menard was fourth, his fourth top-five finish of the season.
It was Gordon’s 91st Cup victory but his first at Michigan since 2001. Gordon, 43, was as good as he has ever been Sunday.
“There have got to be some advantages to being 43,” said Gordon, a four-time Cup champion. “Hopefully being patient and using my head are some of them. I’ve always felt like to be a top driver in this series, you have to be aggressive and also be smart. I’m using some great equipment and making the most of it.”
The turning point of the race came after Kurt Busch, who was racing the top three for the lead, hit the wall on Lap 179. That produced a caution and set up the eighth and final restart with 17 laps remaining. Logano, who had dominated the restarts for most of the day, felt good about that.
But Logano, who led a race-high 86 laps and seemed to have the dominant car, couldn’t get past Gordon this time.
“There was restart after restart after restart, and we won every (one) except the last,” said Logano. “My strong point all day was Turn 1 and that was (Gordon’s) worst spot. So I thought this is my shot. I got underneath him, but he was able to pull me back and after that I lost more momentum. He was gone by then.”
Said Gordon: “On that last one, I thought (Logano) had a good start, but I had one, too. (Harvick) was having trouble getting going, but he got up behind me and that left Joey on an island out there by himself.”
At that point, Logano was facing a Gordon from championship-seasons past.
“When you get to 10 (laps) to go or you see (the checkered flag), he’s going to take it from you,” Hendrick team owner Rick Hendrick said of Gordon. “That was a heck of a move he put on down in (Turn) 1. That looked like the Jeff Gordon of 12 years ago. When the chips are down and it’s time to get the flag, I’ll put my money on him every time.”
Hendrick echoed Gordon about the effectiveness of the skill plus experience equation.
“What I see now is how smart Jeff is,” said Hendrick. “If someone gets in front of him and tries to block him, instead of trying to push the envelope like would in the early years, he’ll back off and let the guy use his stuff up and then pass him.
“When you have the fastest car and everybody is racing you, he knows how to get you on the restart, pass you and pull away.”
Although Gordon sported a gray beard at Michigan, he’s looking and acting a lot younger these days.
“It’s great to see Jeff so happy,” said Hendrick. “He’s like a little kid again.”