LONG POND, Pa. — Jeff Gordon made his last win at Pocono a family affair.
It was a win to savor. His 86th career victory was the first time his wife and both of his two young children joined him in a Victory Lane celebration.
But his Pocono run also thrust Gordon into wild-card contention for the Chase, and he finished 10th in the final standings.
Fast forward a season to Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400. Gordon enters Pocono still looking for his first win of this season and hoping to hold on to his precarious 10th-place spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship standings.
And, he again can make it another win to remember. Once the dominant ‘‘Rainbow Warrior,’’ Gordon turns 42 on Sunday, long removed from the era when he was always the driver to beat at any track.
But the birthday boy still knows how to drive — and he hasn’t forgotten how to win. What he’s still chasing is that elusive fifth Cup championship, 11 years after he celebrated his last one.
It’s what drives him as he’s changed from the driver who shot NASCAR into the mainstream and made it must-see TV into the sport’s elder statesman.
Gordon would love to make another championship push in the No. 24 — as long as he can stay in the field.
‘‘This year has been a strange year for us,’’ Gordon said. ‘‘I feel like last year we showed a little bit more speed up to this point and I felt like all we needed were some breaks to go our way, and a few slight changes to get ourselves in. This year, we just can’t seem to really get ahold of it.’’
He needs to figure it out, fast.
Gordon holds the 10th and final locked-in spot in the 12-driver Chase field. Here’s where it gets tricky: He’s just 1 point ahead of Tony Stewart, 5 points ahead of Martin Truex Jr., and 6 points ahead of Brad Keselowski. The final two wild-card spots go to drivers in 11th to 20th place with the most wins. Should Gordon fall out of the top 10 and not win a race, he’ll be on the outside of the Chase.
‘‘Every year we have gone through this, it’s a different kind of stress level,’’ he said. ‘‘There are stress levels of meeting your full potential, there are stress levels of trying to not let some silly thing happen, or there is the stress level of one little incident.’’
Now it’s time to race.
No driver has done it better at Pocono than Gordon. His six wins are the most at the 2½-mile triangle track, and he has 18 top-fives and 28 top-10s in his 41 Pocono starts. He’ll start 22d on Sunday.
Jimmie Johnson, the Sprint Cup standings leader, set a track record Friday with a lap of 180.654 miles per hour to win the pole. Kyle Busch will start second and Carl Edwards third. Ryan Newman, last week’s race winner at the Brickyard, starts fourth.
Gordon’s seventh-place finish last week at Indianapolis helped him crack the top 10 for the first time since after the second race of the season. He has four top-10 finishes in the last five races.