Back to chasing Gordon

The Hendrick Motorsports empire will celebrate its sixth consecutive Sprint Cup title in November.

One person will be conspicuously absent: Jimmie Johnson.

The five-time champion will finally be dethroned, not by any of his archrivals named Busch or anybody else. His good friend and teammate Jeff Gordon is going to bring him down.

And so it is written.

In his own words, Gordon is "rejuvenated" after three regular-season victories, including a thrilling run at Atlanta Motor Speedway in which he held off a furious charge from Johnson in the last 10 laps.

"He may not have had the dominance in recent years that we've seen before, but it's still Jeff Gordon," Johnson said after the race.

Gordon hasn't won a Cup title in a decade, but he has a bunch of karma going for him this season, starting with a fresh and successful relationship with new crew chief Andy Gustafson. They've clicked, and they will make NASCAR Nation take notice as the 10-race sprint to the finish begins this weekend in Chicago.

"I've been trying to step it up for 10 years," Gordon jokingly said after the victory in Atlanta. "Yeah, we had a strong season last year. But because we didn't win, it just kind of took the wind out of our sails. We were like, gosh, we're good, but we're not great.

"And right now we're great. That's what we have to try to maintain when the Chase starts. We're going to be tested on that for sure because the competitors will all step up, and we have to step up as well.

"So that's the real difference there, is that we have won. We've proven that we can win. I think you have to win to be able to win the championship, and you also have to send a message to your competitors that they know you can win."

Gordon is seeded third for the Chase, three points behind Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. Beyond the three victories, he has 14 top-10 finishes in 26 races.

That's the epitome of consistency in a sport where a lousy pit stop or an accidental bump can ruin your day.

Gordon has recast himself. He is no longer the guy who showed up in the NASCAR garage with a silly peach-fuzz mustache 20 years ago. He no longer has Ray Evernham as his trusted sidekick on pit road. He is no longer the archenemy to rival Dale Earnhardt Sr. NASCAR's icon is dearly departed, but Gordon rambles on with renewed purpose.

At 40, Gordon has 85 victories in 642 Cup races, placing him third on the all-time list. He is a four-time Cup champion as well.

He has another championship to win.

Mr. Rejuvenation will get it done.

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