Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch are into the third round of NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup, which was fairly predictable.
Jeff Gordon? Not so much.
Most pundits had Gordon going out in either the first or second round. Had Gordon filled out a Chase grid, he might not have put himself in the final eight, either.
"I can't believe we are going to Round 3," he said Sunday after making it through the Talladega Superspeedway elimination race by finishing third. "I said all along that if we got to Round 3, we have an excellent shot to get to Homestead."
Yes, it suddenly seems that Gordon's final career Cup race – Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway – might take on more significance than expected. Instead of just climbing into the car for the last time as a driver in NASCAR's top-tier series, Gordon might be competing for his fifth title in NASCAR's four-man championship race.
Gordon has newfound confidence because of his history at the tracks in Round 3; Martinsville Speedway, where he's won eight times, is up first. A win means automatic advancement to Homestead, where four drivers will start with a blank slate and whoever finishes first among them is the champion.
This all seemed extremely unlikely six weeks ago, when Gordon waited to clinch his Chase spot until the final week at Richmond International Raceway and declared his team had much work to do.
But he avoided mistakes in Round 1 — advancing with an average finish of 11th — then ended up with the third-most points of the 12 playoff drivers in Round 2. With the points even again for the final eight, it's not out of the question that Gordon could pull off the improbable.
"This season has been a crazy season for us," he said. "But since the Chase started, the attitude of this team, the momentum and the execution — the things that we weren't doing earlier in the year, we are doing them all right now at the right time."
Gordon advancing to Homestead would be the perfect scenario for NASCAR, which took a hit to the star power of its remaining drivers with the elimination of Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Sunday. With TV ratings down so far in the Chase, a Gordon title threat would certainly provide a boost to a race that already was expected to be a major event thanks to the combination of the championship and Gordon's Cup career finale.
And although he hasn't won a race this season — Sunday was only his fourth top-five finish of the year — Gordon would be a serious contender if he made it to Homestead. He won there in 2012 and led a race-high 161 laps after starting from the pole last year.
"Watch out," he said at Talladega. "We have something for them these next three or four." USA Today