LONG POND - Jeff Gordon was focused straight ahead as he circled the 2-1/2 mile tri-oval at Pocono International Raceway for Sunday's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500.
This time of year, many drivers are caught looking over their shoulders.
Gordon was a force to be reckoned with, leading 39 laps. His chance for a victory evaporated when he took on four tires under caution on Lap 167 laving him stuck in traffic behind cars that took two tires or just fuel. He wound up sixth on the day, while Sprint Cup points leader Kevin Harvick finished fourth. Denny Hamlin, who sits third in points right behind Gordon, was fifth.
After today, only five races remain before the 12-driver "Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup" field is finalized. The most points that can be gained during one event is 161 points. Gordon is currently 189 behind Harvick, while Hamlin is 71 behind Gordon.
The gap to 13th might be the most important number at this part of the season. Mark Martin, who finished seventh, is the odd man out right now, but is only 34 points behind Clint Bowyer who is 12th.
"We haven't clinched a spot yet and there is still some work to do," said Gordon. "We're second in the standings, but I would rather be seventh with a couple of wins under our belt."
Gordon and Harvick are the only drivers who have reached double digits in top five finishes this year, both having 10.
"Our positioning does give us some flexibility in the upcoming races. If we want to gamble in an attempt to get the 10 bonus points (for a win entering the Chase), we can do that knowing we won't fall too far down the standings.
"The first priority, though, is to secure that Chase spot and trying to carry some momentum into the final 10 races."
Gordon just wants to keep the momentum going in the right direction before The Chase starts and he did on Sunday, the first race under new crew chief Steve Letarte.
"I'm excited," Gordon said. "We've been talking about it for a while and everything is good there. I'm happy with Steve. We love having him at Hendrick Motorsports. It's always nice to confirm that so it can be put to rest with everybody else."
He knows how important it is for him to run good the next couple of races.
"We've shown that we can be consistent and we've shown that we can lead laps," he said. "But we have to show that we can win as well."
Gordon has now gone 50 starts in a row without finding his way to Victory Lane.
"We don't want to go into the Chase second in points at Richmond and then go to New Hampshire and we're eighth or ninth in points. You just don't want to give up 40, 50 or 60 points to guys like the 48 (Jimmy Johnson) or the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and the 29 (Kevin Harvick)."
So with "Mr. Mo" still on his side, Gordon heads to Watkins Glen this weekend, hoping to move a little closer to that No. 1 position with the Chase right around the corner.