KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Considering where Jeff Gordon was after Richmond, left out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in part due to some late-race shenanigans, he couldn't have been happier on Sunday.
Not only is Gordon in the Chase, he's making a charge.
Gordon finished third at Kansas Speedway behind winner Kevin Harvick and runner-up Kurt Busch, his third top-10 finish in four races in NASCAR's playoffs. That's allowed him to climb to fourth in points, 32 behind leader Matt Kenseth with six races left in the season.
"Earlier this year, I was probably as frustrated as I've ever been in a racecar. We were just missing something," Gordon said. "Right now, my team has been bringing great cars to the track, not just in the Chase, but I think three, four races prior to that we started to make gains."
Still, those gains wouldn't have been enough for Gordon to squeeze into the Chase when at least three organizations appeared to manipulate the ending to the race at Richmond.
NASCAR chairman Brian France used his power the following weekend to make an unprecedented expansion to the field after two separate investigations revealed that Gordon did not have a fair chance to race his way into the 12-driver Chase because of the late-race controversy.
Now, the four-time champion is making a move toward the top of the table.
He finished sixth in the Chase opener at Chicago, struggled to a 15th-place finish at New Hampshire, and then bounced back with a fourth-place run at Dover. His performance on a slippery surface at Kansas Speedway on Sunday sends him to Charlotte brimming with confidence.
"It's a team effort," Gordon said. "I'm just proud of how we've fought through everything we've fought through this year, and we're making the most of it."
Gordon isn't the only one making a Chase charge.
Harvick's third victory of the season shot him to third in points behind Kenseth and five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. He was 39 points back heading into the weekend and trimmed off 14 points from his deficit, putting him within striking distance of his first championship.
"Everybody wrote us off at the beginning of the year," said Harvick, who recalled that nobody wanted to talk to him at the series' annual media day. "We're just going to keep going our thing, and hopefully keep doing it quietly and have fun at it."
Even though he's won 22 times in the Sprint Cup series, and has long been considered one of its best drivers, Harvick hasn't been able to break through for a championship. He had back-to-back third-place finishes in 2010 and '11, and was fourth in the Chase last year.
It would also tie a nice bow on his lengthy career with Richard Childress Racing. Harvick is heading to Stewart-Haas next year after more than a dozen years with the same team.
"We're committed to try to win the championship," Childress said. "We owe it to our sponsors and our fans to give them 100 per cent, and that's what we agreed to do, and that's what we're going to do until Homestead. No matter what happens between now and then, that's our goal is to go after the championship. What a great way to go out."
Harvick also indicated that it would be the proper way to go out.
"It's business, but it's also you have a sense of pride," he said. "You want to go out with a sense of success and everything has gone well."
Harvick and Gordon both have plenty of work to do if they want to catch Kenseth and Johnson, two drivers who are certainly familiar with the pressure of winning a championship.
Kenseth, who won Saturday's Nationwide race, struggled to tame repaved Kansas Speedway on Sunday. He made a late charge just to finish 11th, allowing him to maintain a three-point lead over Johnson, who finished sixth for his 10th straight top-10 finish at the track.
"It was just a struggle all day, even when we were in front. It was as struggle," Kenseth said. "It was so incredibly treacherous."
Johnson also called the racing treacherous. There were 15 cautions, a record for a Sprint Cup race at the track, and one of the wrecks claimed Chase contender Kyle Busch.
Johnson managed to navigate through the carnage to another solid finish, one that he hopes will put him in position to win his sixth Sprint Cup championship.
"We had so many things happen to us and still salvaged a very strong finish," he said. "We got a little points on the No. 20 and put a bunch on the No. 18, so in the big scheme of things, it was a very good day for the team."