When you take a look at the Sonoma record book, Jeff Gordon's name stands out more than any other. The four-time series champion is the track record-holder for wins, top-fives, top-10s, poles and laps led.
Yet, perhaps more than ever before, Gordon needs a victory on the 1.95-mile road course located in the wine country of Northern California.
Through a combination of bad luck, mistakes by driver and team alike and myriad other factors, Gordon finds himself winless and 21st in the series standings.
With the regular season hitting its stretch run – and little time for Gordon to claw his way back into the top 10 – winning is the only option Gordon has to make the Chase. It's a reality he is well aware of and why this weekend is such a pivotal one for the 24 team.
But if Gordon needs any inspiration – not to mention proof that Hendrick has speed in its fleet of cars – he doesn't have to look far. At Charlotte four weeks ago, his Hendrick stablemate Kasey Kahne was able to climb his way out of an early season hole to get a much-needed win. And, of course, there was Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s return to Victory Lane last weekend after a four-year hiatus.
Since Jimmie Johnson scored the organization's 200th victory at Darlington, Hendrick drivers have won four of the last five races (and five of the last six if you count the non-points All-Star Race).
However, the success his teammates have had this season also adds to the frustration Gordon has frequently experienced.
"I feel like it has really been a test for us," Gordon said Friday. "It has not been easy. When you have high expectations on yourself and your teammates are winning and doing well and when you're running so good, it makes it even more frustrating. I've been saying this, how hard it is to run good and we've got that part down really good, we're running good."
Now, back in the state where he was born and on a track where he has experienced great success, Gordon would like nothing more than to win his sixth career race on the 12-turn natural terrain road course.
"It would be great," said Gordon, the only driver to have won consecutive races at Sonoma. "The competition has gotten better. Guys have done their homework and got their cars better and guys like Juan Pablo (Montoya) and (AJ) Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, these are just guys that have road racing backgrounds and they really have stepped up the game now that they're in solid teams.
"(It) takes a lot to win here. When I hear them say we won here five times, it always blows me away because when you haven't won in awhile, it just seems like it's so hard. It is. But when you do it all right and things go your way, it actually feels pretty easy."