NASCAR Richmond Preview: Drivers Check Your Rearview Mirrors – Jeff Gordon Approaching

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Staff Report ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Jeff Gordon (Photo: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jeff Gordon (Photo: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Look out NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers.

A sleeping giant is awakening and seems poised to join the championship conversation that hasn’t yet included his name.

Jeff Gordon.

Quietly, the No. 24 Chevrolet driver has strung together five consecutive top-10 finishes, the longest current streak in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. During the run he has accumulated the most points in the NSCS, climbing from 30th in the standings all the way up to ninth. Gordon has improved in each one of his last four races, finishing 10th, ninth, seventh and third.

So naturally, it’s fair to think a win might be coming in Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway (7 p.m. ET on FOX) for the driver whose goal is to walk off with his fifth NSCS title in his final full-time season.

Gordon owns two victories at Richmond and leads active drivers there in Coors Light Pole Awards (6), top-five finishes (18) and laps led (1,637). In his last 11 races at the .75-mile track, he has placed in the top three six times (55%). Last season, Gordon produced second-place finishes in both Richmond events.

Besides experience at the Northern Virginia track, the 43-year-old also has the advantage of testing at Richmond on April 8 under NASCAR’s new rules package. Still, he tempered his expectations when discussing the upcoming race.

“I thought the test (at Richmond) a few weeks ago went well, but there are always things that we will work on and try to improve,” Gordon said. “This event always presents challenges since we practice during the day and race at night.”

Gordon’s competition this weekend is tough to pinpoint. Richmond has been a parade of parity, featuring six different winners in its last six races. The Team Penske tandem of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski that swept the Richmond races last year should be stout, as well as Kevin Harvick who boasts three wins there. Clint Bowyer is historically a contender at Richmond, with two wins, 10 top 10s and the fourth-highest driver rating (99.6).

“Richmond is a fun race track and obviously a good one for me,” Bowyer said. “I’m looking forward to getting there and seeing what we’ve got for the ole girl. She can be a tough one but we have some good momentum after Bristol. It was a tough weekend but we found something Saturday and that translated into a good car on Sunday. Ready to battle with the leaders again this weekend.”

Young drivers lead Joe Gibbs Racing in NASCAR XFINITY Series

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth compete in the NASCAR XFINITY Series as well for Joe Gibbs Racing, but two young upcoming drivers have been carrying the program recently.

Erik Jones, 18, has logged top-five finishes in his last four XFINITY Series starts, including a victory at Texas, while Daniel Suarez, 23, placed runner-up last week at Bristol (the highest series finish by a Mexico-born driver).

Both NASCAR Next alumni, along with Hamlin, are entered in Friday’s ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).

Suarez finished 19th in his lone start at Richmond last season and owns four NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts there. He will attempt to improve his 10th-place position in the XFINITY Series points standings.

“We’re feeling really good and our confidence is very high heading into Richmond,” Suarez said. “You have to work hard in order to get good results in racing and that’s what we’ve been doing, little by little. We’ve been working on getting faster and it was evident in Texas and Bristol. We don’t expect this weekend to be any different.”

Jones hops into the No. 54 car for injured Kyle Busch. He has never raced at Richmond in any of NASCAR’s series, but has confidence in his team and equipment.

“JGR has had a lot of success at Richmond over the past few years,” Jones said. I think we have a pretty good program on the XFINITY side right now to try and go and grab another win. Tackling the new track, I’ll probably pick Kyle’s (Busch) brain for some information, but overall I feel like we’ll have a good enough race car that it will make it easier on me as a driver to figure it out.”

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