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August 14. 2013 8:35PM

Allen Lessels' Motor Sports: Gordon faces same challenge

JEFF GORDON has been down this rocky road before.

Last year at this same time, in fact.

What NASCAR calls its regular season is down to four races, starting this weekend at Michigan International Speedway, before the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship kicks off on Sept. 15.

Only 12 drivers — the top 10 in the point standings and two wild card entrants based on wins and points — receive invitations to the Chase.

At the moment, Gordon is 13th in points. He's on the outside looking in at the Chase, as he was last year with four races to go.

"It's pretty much the same," Gordon said between Hendrick Motorsports testing sessions on Wednesday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "We've been through it so we kind of understand what it's like to deal with that."

Last year, Gordon's team dealt well with it.

He was 16th in points after Michigan last year with three races to go and with a third-place finish at Bristol and second at Atlanta, he moved up to 13th — still on the outside but knocking aggressively on the door — going into the last race before the Chase at Richmond.

"It was fun and exciting and crazy and yeah, it wasn't the way I prefer to do it," Gordon said. "When you know the end results, it's the coolest way to do it, but when you go into it knowing that you basically have to win to make it in, that's a lot of pressure."

Gordon trailed Kyle Busch by 12 points the morning of the Richmond race. He finished second in the race and snuck into the Chase.

"We had a lot of ups and downs in that race," Gordon said. "It just tells us you can never give up and that's what I think we've learned from that on how we approach this weekend and the next several weekends. And the same thing if we make it in the Chase.

Gordon, who was here for a tire test here earlier in the season, came back to NHMS on Wednesday hoping to improve his results at Michigan and the races ahead with the goal of securing a spot in the Chase.

His Hendrick teammates — Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne — came looking for any edge that will help them solidify their hold on playoff berths, as well as give them an advantage when NASCAR returns here for the second race in the Chase.

Johnson became the first driver to officially clinch a spot in the 2013 Chase when he finished eighth at Watkins Glen on Sunday. He holds a 75-point lead in the standings on Clint Bowyer.

Earnhardt is sixth in points, but does not have a win this season. That would become a problem if he dropped out of the top 10 in points.

"We've got a good cushion right now on the guy in 11th and that's the way we want to keep it, Earnhardt said. "We had a tough weekend points-wise at Watkins Glen (he finished 30th ) and we just don't want to repeat that in the remaining races before the Chase."

Kahne is 12th in the standings and dropped four spots by finishing 34th at Watkins Glen. The good news for Kahne, though, is that he has a pair of wins, which will go a long way towards getting him a spot in the Chase.

Which brings us back to Gordon.

He was 10th in the Camping World RV Sales 301 at NHMS on July 14 and had climbed up to ninth in points with seventh and second-place finishes going into Watkins Glen.

But he crashed there, finished 36th and tumbled back down the standings.Kurt Busch is 13 points in front of him and, like Gordon, does not have a win. Kahne is between them with the two wins. Ryan Newman is five points behind Gordon and does have a win. Jamie McMurray is in 15th, 10 points behind Gordon, and he also has a win.

Here Gordon goes again.

"Our chances are as good as anybody that we're around," he said. "It's hard to get yourself excited about gaining moment and to get confidence in things starting to go your way, because it seems like every time we do get things to go our way, something disrupts that. I hope over the next four or five weeks we can put it together and kind of start over."

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After Michigan on Sunday, the Sprint Cup series moves to Bristol Aug. 24, Atlanta on Sept. 1 and Richmond on Sept. 7. ... The Sylvania 300 is set for Spt. 22 at NHMS.

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alessels@unionleader.com On Twitter: @allenlessels


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