If there's anyone who feels a sense of urgency for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, it's four-time champion Jeff Gordon, who is in his final full season of driving the iconic No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
And in an exclusive interview with FOXSports.com, Gordon said his team is improving after a dreadful start that saw him 30th in points after three races, largely on the basis of getting caught in other drivers' wrecks.
Now, heading into Saturday night's Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway, Gordon is all the way up to ninth in points. Gordon has two victories at the 0.75-mile RIR track and last year finished second in both races here. He will start this race 11th, best of any of the four Hendrick drivers.
While Gordon is pleased with posting five consecutive top-10 finishes, including a season's best third-place result last week at Bristol Motor Speedway, he said there is work to be done if he wants to make a run at another title.
"We have to improve on the mile-and-a-half tracks," Gordon said. "That's where you win the championships, that's where we were so strong last year. And that's not where we're strong right now. Our short-track program has been pretty good. I think our team effort has been really good, and that's why we closed up so much in the points, but we've got a little work to do to be a real contender for the championship."
In eight races this season, Gordon has already run what presumably will be the final races of his career at two tracks, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway. He said his eventual departure from the cockpit -- he still won't use the word "retirement" -- has not been a distraction so far.
"Most of my energy is focused on the team and being competitive, which is what I was hoping to be able to do," said Gordon. "And that hasn't paid off just yet. We've struggled a little bit on track this year a little bit more than we anticipated. But the last few weeks we've been...