With a 54-point deficit and only three races to make it up, it looks like Jeff Gordon's chances of winning a fifth Sprint Cup championship are gone. But Gordon once again showed that he's still one of the best drivers in NASCAR.
Gordon qualified for the Chase this season in one of two wild-card spots by having the most wins outside the 10 drivers who automatically qualified for the Chase.
None of Gordon's four titles have come during the Chase era, and he knows the playoff format requires constant adjustment.
Q: Is it difficult to adjust to the almost yearly changes and tweaks to the Chase?
A: The format itself is a challenge. I've been in the sport a long time, back to when the sport was completely different, and the champion was decided by the season-long points race. I see pros and cons to both systems. I really like what they've done with the wild card, and I especially liked it since we were able to take advantage of it this year.
But overall, I like the challenge of the playoff system. It pretty much guarantees that the season will come down to the final two or three races, and that's something the sport needs. If you go back, you realize the old system could be pretty anticlimactic at the end.
With the Chase, what we've seen over the years is that whoever comes out on top is gonna have one bad race. That 10 weeks is a lot of racing. A lot can go right and a lot can go wrong, so you can't count yourself out.
Do the small changes to the rules, or the new points system, impact how you strategize throughout the season?
That stuff doesn't really change anything from our standpoint. The point system was more geared toward making it easier for the people at home. How we strategize for a race or how we prepare to try to get into the Chase, none of that has really changed.
What changes would you like to see in the Chase format?
Lately we've seen more mile-and-a-half tracks come into play. They've begun to dominate the sport. I'd like to see more diversity in the Chase races. I think it's necessary to have a restrictor plate track in there, because of the entertainment value those tracks hold. There's so much that can happen, if you come out of there in the top 10, you feel like you won. I wish Bristol was in the Chase, and I wouldn't mind a road course.
You've been a father for five years now. How much has parenthood changed you as a race car driver?
I don't think it changed me on the track. It definitely changed me, like it does everyone else, away from the track. It changed my preparation for a race, and how I manage my time. But it doesn't change my focus when I get in the car. I haven't found anything that changes that. You get in there and it's all about winning the race.
Texas Motor Speedway schedule of events
9 a.m.: Gate 6 opens
10 a.m.: All gates open; No Limits Carnival opens
12:20 p.m.: Pre-race show featuring Eli Young Band
2 p.m.: Sprint Cup AAA Texas 500 (TV: ESPN, Cox 29)