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Gordon hopes to shift into high gear at Pocono

  • BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Jeff Gordon (right) and Mark Martin have a conversation in the garage area at Pocono Raceway on Friday.
    BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Jeff Gordon (right) and Mark Martin have a conversation in the garage area at Pocono Raceway on Friday.
Published June 11. 2011 09:00AM

LONG POND - Jeff Gordon's fourth-place finish at Kansas last weekend was his first top-10 finish since he ended up third at Talladega in the middle of April.

Gordon and Team Dupont are looking to keep the momentum going in the right direction in Sunday's 5-hour ENERGY 500 here at Pocono Raceway, better known as the "Tricky Triangle".

The No. 24 Chevrolet driver most recently labeled it as "the Tricky Scalene".

"Well, that came up in conversation where somebody called it the 'triangle' and talking about the uniqueness of this track and how every angle and every corner is different," he said when asked where that came from. "So I was trying to figure out what a triangle that has different angles (is), so that's how we came up with it, the 'tricky scalene'. So I guess that's my new name for this place."

Gordon is also happy that NASCAR is going to allow the drivers to shift again this weekend, something they weren't allowed to do last year.

"I'm glad it's back," he said. "To me, I wasn't a fan of when they (NASCAR) took it away. I feel like I have an opportunity to grab that third gear to get a little bit better launch up off the corner. I think it challenges you in a way as a driver and the team, to work on the car to be able to do that. And so I think that just kind of adds another set of skills in there that I think are important, especially here at Pocono, as well as more opportunity to pass.

"And I think that's important because we've seen how track position is so important and getting your car to be able to turn down underneath somebody and then grab that gear to be able to try to make a pass I think is important.

"Some guys were shifting the last couple of time we were here with the old transmission. I don't know how they were doing it. I wasn't one of them and we were still fast. But to me, it makes sense to have the right third gear in there to be able to shift with that really works for you all the way around this place."

Alan Gustafson, Gordon's crew chief, is focusing on shifting as well.

"If you unload your car and you're struggling with balance, the driver may not even shift," he said. "As you work through practice, however, and get better, how you shift and whre you shift changes.. We may even see someone try to shift six times a lap, upshifting and downshifting along each straightaway."

Gordon, who sits 13th in the driver's points standings, hasn't seen Victory Lane since he won at Phoenix back on February 27th in the second race of the season. He hopes that he gets to visit it again this weekend.

"I certainly hope so," he said, when asked about his chances. "We came out strong in the season and then we fell off on the 1.5-miles and we've been climbing out way back. I'm so proud of the work that's been done with this team to make some gains. I think we made some big gains and we showed that last week at Kansas. I think we showed a little bit of it at Charlotte as well, even though the results weren't there. I think the performance has definitely picked up in a big way and that's a big part of it in my opinion.

"And then we've got to make sure that we follow that up by putting ourselves in position at the right time. It's really hard to say what's going to happen here this weekend. The last time we were here, the No. 24 car was good. So we look at those notes and try to carry some of that over. But a lot has changed. The competition has definitely stepped things up (with) some of the technology and aero package and different things that we have that we've learned over the off-season to this point can also changes things; plus the shifting. So we'll see."

A little more than halfway through the regular season and just out of the Top 10, Gordon is focusing on more than just the wild card spot to get into the Chase for the Championship run.

"Nobody wants to get in on a wild card; I mean not unless you have five wins and we just had a bunch of bad luck," he said "I feel like we certainly have a shot at it. And there are two ways to go about it. We need to win more races and I think that's the key factor because if we win more races that I think could get us into the top 10. And if it doesn't get us into the top 10 I think it will get us in with a wild card. So we're focused on winning races."

With some rain in the forecast for qualifying, Gordon had all eyes focused on his Friday afternoon practice session.

"Well, we were focused on doing race practice primarily anyway," Jeff said. "And a lot of it is about whether it's going to rain in the second practice today more so than raining tomorrow. If it looks like rain the second practice, that's when we are planning on doing our qualifying runs and we might sneak one in the first practice. We'll take a look at that. We're going to put most of our emphasis on race trim anyway. This is a long race and you can work your way up through there because it is such a long race. And so being 13th in the points, that's not where we want to start, we think we can start better than that, but that's not the end of the world."

By the way Gordon ran at Pocono the last time, he feels confident that he can be pretty strong here this weekend.

Sprint Cup qualifying will be held at 11:10 this morning and the green flag will drop at 1 p.m. tomorrow for the 200-lap race.

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