- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 7, 2008

RICHMOND | He’s the most accomplished driver in the NASCAR garage, and by a wide margin, but changes in the Sprint Cup Series have not been very kind to Jeff Gordon.

The four-time champion hasn’t won a title since NASCAR went to the 10-race playoff format five years ago, and he hasn’t won a race since the Car of Tomorrow became the car of today.

Only now is he starting to feel like things are coming together, even if the component of good fortune so appreciated by drivers at this level still hasn’t swung back around his way.

“Ironic thing,” Gordon said at Richmond International Raceway, where weather postponed the race to set the 12-driver field for the playoffs to Sunday. Gordon is 10th in the standings, 102 points ahead of 13th-place David Ragan, heading into the Rock & Roll 400.

“Last week, Jimmie [Johnson] and his team went to Kentucky to test on Monday. Our team was scheduled to be there on Tuesday,” Gordon said of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate. “Jimmie got a full day in, and it rained on Tuesday and we didn’t get any testing in.”

In the race they were working toward, Johnson led 228 of 250 laps in California on Sunday and won for the third time this season, while Gordon finished a very pedestrian 15th.

This week already has offered more of the same.

Gordon showed up at Richmond and had the fastest car in practice Friday, but qualifying was rained out when Tropical Storm Hanna arrived, relegating him to the No. 10 starting spot.

“I was very happy with today because I feel like we’re really starting to get some things figured out,” Gordon said before Friday’s rainout. “I hate that it’s coming this late in the season because we’ve had some missed opportunities, but all that matters to me at this point with the type of year that we’re having is that we’re making gains.”

Gordon could continue those gains at Richmond, where he has two career wins. He needs to finish 24th or better on the 0.75-mile, D-shaped oval to secure his spot in the Chase, and the opportunity to pursue his first championship since 2001.

In the Chase, he’s learned, anything can happen.

Last season, he dominated the standings before the Chase, when his 300-plus point lead after 26 races was wiped out by the format that resets the field and gives bonus points for victories. Johnson started the playoffs with a 20-point lead over Gordon, won four times the rest of the way to Gordon’s two and claimed his second straight title.

This year, Gordon will bring a 30-race winless streak into Sunday afternoon’s race, and the hope that the inevitability of a surprise contender emerging could work to his benefit.

Through 25 races, points leader Kyle Busch has won eight times, Carl Edwards has six wins, Johnson has won three times, and Chase long shot Kasey Kahne is the only other driver with more than one victory.

Of the top 13 drivers in the standings, six have not won a race this season.

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