It took 21 races, a lucky break and a well-timed thunderstorm, but Jeff Gordon finally has his first win of the Sprint Cup season after taking the Pennsylvania 400 in Pocono last Sunday.
In a season that has seen him bounce around the edge of the top 20 of series points, Gordon finally holds one of two wild-card spots in the 10-race championship battle. He's ranked 13th—his best mark of the season—and has finished sixth or better in six of the past seven races.
But does that mean the four-time champion is a serious threat to win his first Chase?
Through May's race at Darlington, few expected Gordon to be any sort of contender for the championship. His best finish was a fourth at Texas, though strong runs at Bristol and Martinsville were ruined by late-race accidents. He had fallen to 24th in points—over 150 out of the championship lead.
But despite the magnitude of attention placed upon Gordon's difficult start to the season, the past 10 races have seen a major turnaround for the No. 24 team. Gordon has gained 11 spots in points by virtue of an 8.0 average finish in those events. He's completed every lap, while leading at least one lap in seven of the 10.
That momentum should set him up well for the 10 Chase tracks, some of which he's performed very well on already this year.
Of the first five, Gordon finished sixth at Loudon, led 60 laps at Dover, won a pole at Talladega and finished seventh at Charlotte. Of the final five, he led over 300 laps at Martinsville, scored the aforementioned fourth place at Texas and took his first top 10 of the season with an eighth place at Phoenix.
In other words, this year's Chase seems like Gordon's time to shine.
With the mental block of no wins finally eradicated, Gordon can focus on the task at hand: keeping a hold of his wild-card position and getting ready for the Chase. With only one win, he sacrifices few bonus points by missing out on a top-10 position, so that shouldn't be much of a worry for Gordon or his fans.
At this point, as long as he earns a Chase berth, there's no reason that he shouldn't be a favorite.