Will Talladega Be Right Place and Time for Jeff Gordon to Shake Up 2013 Chase?

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistOctober 17, 2013

DOVER, DE - SEPTEMBER 27:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, sits in his car during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2013 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway has the potential to be a race that either widens or closes the gap that points leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson have on the rest of the field in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Because of the race's unpredictability, not to mention the propensity for one if not more "big ones" (multi-car wrecks), Kenseth and/or Johnson—or both—could either pull away and open up a huge lead on the rest of the other 11 Chase drivers. Or the points could be jumbled and significantly tighten up afterward and with four races remaining.

Looking at the standings pre-Talladega, one driver in particular chasing Kenseth and Johnson stands out about the rest. To put it simply, if there ever was a time for Jeff Gordon to make a big move, now is his time, no doubt about it.

If things go right for Gordon at 'Dega, the four-time Cup champion could significantly close the 31-point deficit between himself and Kenseth, as well as the 29-point deficit between himself and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.

That's provided Kenseth and Johnson get into trouble and Gordon stays out of it—which is a lot easier to say than do at such a wild-card venue as 'Dega. Gordon definitely has an edge there, with six career wins and 19 top-10 finishes in 41 starts.

For argument's sake, though, let's say Gordon is able to close the gap on Kenseth and Johnson to maybe 15 points after Sunday's race.

Then we go onto yet another wild-card track and race at Martinsville the following week, where Gordon (seven wins and 33 top-10s in 41 starts) and Johnson (eight wins and an incredible 20 top-10s in 23 starts) historically shine with 15 wins between them on the short half-mile bull ring.

Kenseth, on the other hand, has struggled at both Talladega (one win, nine top-10s in 27 starts) and Martinsville (zero wins, eight top-10s in 27 starts) in his 15-year career.

If Gordon is going to force a changing of the guard, he'll have to start at Talladega and continue doing so at Martinsville. If that happens, we could potentially see a whole different view at the top of the standings once the circuit leaves southern Virginia on Oct. 27.

In addition to a good trouble-free race at Talladega, what Gordon needs more than anything else right now is a win. He has yet to visit victory lane in 2013.

At the same time, it's not like he hasn't been trying or hasn't come close. Lost in all the attention being given to Kenseth and Johnson and what they've done thus far in the first five Chase races, Gordon has been on a heck of a run himself that dates back even before the Chase.

Would you be surprised if I told you that, starting with Race 24 of the 36-race season at Bristol Motor Speedway, Gordon has amassed two top-five and five other top-10 finishes in his last eight starts? And his worst finish in that eight-race stretch has been 15th.

Translated, Gordon is coming into Talladega with a tremendous amount of momentum. He's definitely peaking at the right time and potentially can peak even higher at the right place on Sunday.

He just has to put it all together at perhaps the trickiest speedway on the circuit.

But if he can do what his fans hope he will, what many are considering right now as just a two-horse race, the remainder of the Chase may just have to add a third to the party.

Remember the old saying, "Two's a couple and three's a crowd"? Right now, Jeff Gordon is poised to make it a crowd. He's at the right track, at the right time of the Chase and has the right mindset and motivation to do it.

If I were Kenseth or Johnson, I wouldn't worry much about the other drivers in the Chase on Sunday because Gordon is likely to give them all or more than they can handle.

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