NEW YORK — Jeff Gordon has one win in his last 103 races and is mired in the longest losing streak of his illustrious career. Yet as he heads into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, he likes his title chances.
Why? Because the four-time champion believes consistency can carry him to a fifth title.
"Consistency has always been one of our strengths, which is why I think the old points system worked well for us," said Gordon, who won his last title in 2001 under the season-long championship structure but has not finished higher than second in five Chase appearances.
"We'll approach these 10 races with the same mind-set. Sure, you're trying to win each race, but 10 races is longer than many people realize. You want to make sure you get the absolute best finish you can each week, and not put yourself into a position where you end up with a 30th- or 35th-place finish.
"Those are the things that allow you to put top-fives and top-10's together to win championships."
Gordon is one of five drivers headed into Sunday's Chase opener at New Hampshire with a 60-point deficit to leader Denny Hamlin. Gordon spent most of the season ranked second in the standings, dropped to third after Saturday night's race at Richmond, and then fell to eighth under the reseed of the Chase field.
He's spent the past several weeks downplaying his failure to win a race this season, instead choosing to focus on his 13 top-10 finishes over the first 26 races. He was in position to win about five times, but came up short and settled for finishing second or third six times this season.
So he now finds himself at the back of the pack needing a near flawless run at New Hampshire to close the gap on the championship leaders.
There are many who believe the champion will have to win at least one race during the Chase, and there might not be room for even one poor finish, especially for the five drivers who haven't won a race this year and start 60 points behind.
Among them is Carl Edwards, who had a red-hot summer to toss his name into the ring of contenders. Still winless since the 2008 finale, he has managed to break free of the early-season Roush-Fenway Racing problems to emerge as their best championship hope.
Edwards has eight top-10 finishes in the last nine races, and the exception was a 12-place finish at Bristol. So long as he qualifies well, he thinks he's got a shot Sunday.
"It's a short race without a lot of cautions, so qualifying will be important," he said.
Edwards is at the bottom of the pack with teammate Matt Kenseth, the 2003 series champion who has been up-and-down this season and has just one top-five in the last 14 races. Kenseth has had three crew chiefs this season and managed to stay inside the top 12 despite the turmoil.
But New Hampshire is not a great track for him. He was 17th there in June, and in 21 career starts has only 11 top-10s.
Also winless this season is Clint Bowyer, who holds the 12th spot in the Chase field. But with just two career Cup wins and none since 2008, Bowyer is likely going to have to get to Victory Lane to take the championship.
"I want to win a race, and I feel like we keep getting closer and closer," he said. "We have to get better at closing the deals if we expect to compete for a championship with these guys."