Look at the finishing order of Sunday's NASCAR race at Chicagoland Speedway, and it's easy to think Jeff Gordon's hopes of winning his fifth championship are over and done.
After all, the Hendrick Motorsports driver finished 35th and is a whopping 47 points behind leader and Chicago winner Brad Keselowski.
But be advised: If you're going to write Gordon off, you do so at your own risk. Because if he has taught us anything this season, it is that no matter the hurdle, the 24 team can find a way to clear it.
By now, Gordon's comeback just to make the Chase has been well-documented. He was 25th in the standings after five races this season, and it was clear by May he would need a wild card to make the Chase.
Even when Gordon did get that victory at Pocono, trouble still lurked around the corner. There was a last-lap spin at Watkins Glen which cost him a top-10, followed by a blown motor the next week at Michigan. With his season hanging delicately in the balance, Gordon responded in only a way a driver who has won 86 Sprint Cup races and four championships can.
In three consecutive races leading into the Chase, Gordon finished strong. He finished third at Bristol, a close second to Denny Hamlin at Atlanta and then pulled a rabbit out of his hat at Richmond by coming back from a lap down to finish in the runner-up position.
So seeing the barriers Gordon has knocked down this year, can you really cross his name off the list of title contenders?
In just about any other year, sure. But this season isn't one of them.
Watching Gordon in the garage on Sunday as repairs were being made to his wounded Chevrolet was to see a driver who knew he wasn't out of contention. This was a man who wasn't feeling sorry for himself. Instead, he fully understood what this year was all about and that one poor race didn't mean his season was over.
Plus, Gordon has enough experience to know every driver in the Chase will likely have a throwaway race where nothing goes right.
Last year, Tony Stewart followed back-to-back wins in the opening Chase races with a woeful race at Dover, where he finished two laps down in 25th. Stewart, of course, recovered and went on to win claim his third series title.
And if Gordon needs more inspiration, he can look at what his own Hendrick Motorsports teammate did in 2006. That year, Jimmie Johnson began the Chase by finishing 39th at New Hampshire and finished 13th, 14th and 24th in the following weeks.
Johnson then posted one win and four second-place finishes to easily win his first championship.
Don't think for a second that Gordon is incapable of such a streak. He is, and it would surprise no one if he replicated Johnson's 2006 heroics.
So before you go ahead and kick dirt the 24 team's Chase carcass, you might want to restrain yourself for at least another week.
To do anything else would be unwise.
Here's a look at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings after Chicago:
- Brad Keselowski
- Jimmie Johnson -3
- Tony Stewart -8
- Denny Hamlin -15
- Kasey Kahne -15
- Clint Bowyer -15
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. -17
- Greg Biffle -19
- Martin Truex Jr. -21
- Kevin Harvick -24
- Matt Kenseth -26
- Jeff Gordon -47