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Jeff Gordon’s turnaround impressive since last year’s Watkins Glen crash

Aug 9, 2014, 2:09 PM EDT

Rewind to last year’s Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International. Jeff Gordon entered the afternoon winless in 2013 but in the Top 10 of the Sprint Cup standings.

But on Lap 14, Gordon bounced off the outside barrier in the esses before hitting the inside barrier on the backstretch.

The crash relegated him to a 36th place finish, knocked him out of the Top 10 in points, and helped keep him out of that year’s Chase until NASCAR put him into the postseason after the manipulation incident in the final regular season race at Richmond.

However, since that wreck, Gordon has been able to find the consistency necessary to finally capture the fifth Sprint Cup title that has eluded him for more than a decade.

In the remaining 14 races of the 2013 season, Gordon earned a win at Martinsville, three Top-5s and eight Top-10s. Barring his 38th-place finish at Texas in November, he finished no worse than 17th (Michigan) in that stretch and the Martinsville win put him in title contention with three races to go – until his crash at Texas took him out of it.

Gordon’s late-season run showed that a fifth championship was still a possibility, and in 2014, he’s made sure that possibility has grown larger with an additional two wins (Kansas and the Brickyard 400), seven Top-5s, and 15 Top-10s in 21 races.

Altogether, that’s three wins, ten Top-5s, 23 Top-10s and a strong average finish of 9.7 in the 35 races since his accident one year ago at the Glen.

This year, Gordon is comfortably locked into the Chase. He’s been the Sprint Cup championship leader since Pocono in June and has been either first or second in the championship since Texas in April.

And back problems aside, Gordon’s having fun running as competitively as he has been.

This afternoon during Sprint Cup qualifying at the Glen, he immediately shouted “Hell yeah, boys! Whoooo!” after he popped off the lap that would earn him the pole for tomorrow’s Cheez-It 355.

The difference between where he was at this time last year and right now is really remarkable.

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