CHICAGO — The infamous mustache is making a comeback — and Jeff Gordon believes he is, too.
The four-time NASCAR champion grabbed the final spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship away from Kyle Busch with a vintage performance last week. He will try to end his long “Drive for Five,” starting Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
It’s fair to say he’s feeling just a little rejuvenated.
“This is the defining moment for me at this stage of my career,” Gordon said. “Not making this Chase could have had devastating results.”
He’s in because of a dramatic performance at Richmond.
Gordon came in trailing Busch by 12 points and beat him by three, making major adjustments to his Chevrolet throughout and coming on strong after falling a lap behind to finish second in a race hampered by rain.
Now, the question is: At age 41 and 11 years removed from his last championship, can he string together 10 strong races to capture title No. 5?
If nothing else, he’s showing he’s a man of his word.
Gordon had vowed to bring back the mustache he sported at the start of his NASCAR career if he made the Chase, and his facial hair is once again the talk of the sport. He had a salt-and-pepper 5 o’clock shadow, the early makings of a beard, on Wednesday.
He insisted it will be a mustache by the weekend.
“My wife started all this because she reminded me and Twitterville of the commitment I had made a month or month and a half ago,” Gordon said. “I meant it when I said it and I hoped that we would be in this position, be in the Chase and sporting the ’stache. So here we go. Get ready.”
Gordon couldn’t remember exactly what led to the vow to bring back the mustache, widely ridiculed after its debut when he was a 21-year-old Sprint Cup Series rookie.
Bringing it back might have popped into his head from a comment on Twitter. He’s not sure. He just remembers the reaction to his promise.
“They were all like, ’Yeah, yeah, yeah,”’ he said. “I have fans all the time on Twitter, off Twitter, other competitors, messaging me, ’Bring back the ’stache.’ And I guarantee, it’s not because I was cool.”
Other drivers had some tips for Gordon.
“You can’t leave out the mullet, too,” said five-time champion and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson. “I’ve seen some discussion on the old trucker hats, but I’m just impressed. ... He’s doing it gray and all, so I’m proud of him. He’s a lot older now, so I think his mustache is going to be more defined. And he might not be so porn ’stache-ish. There might be a bit more of Tom Selleck or something along those lines.”
Defending champion Tony Stewart joked, “He’s got to bring back the eyebrows, too, to match it. It’s got to be a matched set. He had that big ’stache, but if you don’t have the eyebrows, it’s not going to look right. It’s fun for Jeff and it will be for his fans too.”
Those fans will really be loving it if he pulls off the title.
At this time last year, Stewart defied his own expectations. He won at Chicagoland after stumbling into the Chase and won five of the 10 races, including the season finale, to tie Carl Edwards for the championship and take the title on the tiebreaker.
Can Gordon be this year’s Stewart, the guy that gets hot at just the right time even if he is admittedly past his prime?
He might have won at Atlanta this month, but instead of knocking winner Denny Hamlin out of his way, he drifted up the banking and allowed him to pull away. Gordon second-guessed himself for that, and he looked like he was in trouble last week before making his push.
He figured he had nothing to lose midway through Saturday night’s race at Richmond, so why not make some “wholesale, huge” changes to the No. 24 Chevy?
“To me, it’s classic when I think of (Dale) Earnhardt Sr.,” Gordon said. “He would start the race. You’d lap him. By the end of the race, they’re winning or coming after you for the win. To me, that’s sometimes the box that you put yourself in that can be more beneficial. What we’ve learned from that is we’ve got to go out every weekend for these next 10 weeks and be fully committed to pursuing winning. If we’re in fifth, we’ve got to have that same attitude like we’re in 26th. We’ve got to absolutely go after it.”