Gordon brings back the mustache before upcoming race

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Gordon brings back the mustache before upcoming race

JOLIET We've heard about winning one for the Gipper or for a sick kid, but when was the last time you heard an athlete go out and "win for the 'stache?"

Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon, with nearly a week's growth above his lip, came into this weekend's action at Chicagoland Speedway hoping to find a motivational tool for he, his team and his fans to latch on to kick off the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Gordon hasn't worn a mustache since 1993, but given how often fans have asked him "when are you going to grow your mustache back again?" over the years, he decided a couple of weeks ago that if he made the Chase, he may just bring back the whiskers for a return engagement.

Especially if it could serve as motivational fodder.

But even Gordon is a bit surprised at the resulting comments and interest his new growth has fostered, including it's own Twitter account (@GordonsMustache). While he's taking things with a grain of salt and enjoying the attention his facial hair is causing, it very well may prove to be an inspiration towards winning that long-sought fifth Cup championship this season.

Gordon almost didn't make the Chase this season. It appeared Kyle Busch would earn the 12th and final qualifying position at Richmond last week, but Gordon drove like he hasn't in years perhaps as hard as when he last had a caterpillar atop his lip. In the end, Busch fell short and Gordon raced his way into his eighth Chase appearance (the Chase enters its ninth year starting tomorrow).

And if the stubble he sported heading into Richmond gave him an assist to make the Chase, why not ride it through for the 10 races in NASCAR's playoff, right?

"I've had fans, other competitors just saying you need to bring back that mustache, the mullet, the whole thing, the rainbow colored paint scheme, the whole thing. I always laughed about it. Then we were having a conversation about a month ago about making the Chase and I said if we make it, I'll bring back my mustache.

"It's just kind of taken a life of it's own. It's coming, slow, but it's coming."

Gordon has not won a Cup championship since 2001, but the combination of the mustache and his overall record at Chicagoland Speedway 11 starts, one win, six top-5 and seven top-10 finishes could ultimately wind up spelling a fifth career Cup title by season's end.

But one thing is missing, according to fellow competitor and reigning Cup champion Tony Stewart.

"(Gordon's) got to grow back the eyebrows, too," Stewart joked. "It was kind of a matching set."

While Gordon is adding hair, crew chief Alan Gustafson is also getting into the spirit of things, having shaved his head earlier this week after promising to do so if Gordon made the Chase.

While the now-bald Gustafson and the stubble-filled Gordon are making quite an unusual pairing, their dual actions have certainly motivated the No. 24 team as it gets ready for Sunday's kickoff to the Chase.

"I made the statement and am a person of my word," Gordon said. "And Alan said he'd shave his head, so we did. We're committed."

They're also committed to getting off to a strong start in the Chase. Or you can look at it as if they're picking up where they left off prior to the start of the chase, with a win at Pocono six weeks ago and then finishes of third and a pair of runner-up showings in his last three races, including the second-place finish that ultimately got Gordon into the Chase and mathematically kicked Kyle Busch out.

"If we finish where we're running and where our performance level is at, then we're going to be a major threat in this thing," Gordon said. "And we've done that in the last three weeks."

Gordon comes into Sunday's race in a four-way tie for ninth place in the 12-driver Chase. He'll start from the 19th position, not exactly where he'd like to, but given he'll get 267 laps around the 1.5-mile race track, Gordon is poised to make a run to the front in much the same fashion he did in earning his runner-up showing at Richmond last weekend.

"The whole team is extremely fired up and excited about the way things have been going, and to be able to pull (Richmond) off gives us a huge boost," Gordon said. "We're ready to go get after it here in Chicago this weekend. We feel like we've got a good gameplan, a great race car and the 'stache is back, so I think we're in great shape."

There's one other motivating factor that could play into Gordon's championship run: had it not been for reaching back into his bag of tricks and looking like the Jeff Gordon of old who won championships in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001 last weekend at Richmond, he would not be where he is coming into Sunday's race.

In other words, Gordon has to keep things going and not make the same mistakes or hopefully have better luck than he did in some less-than-fortunate instances in races earlier this season. Rather than having to sneak into the Chase by the skin of his teeth, he much rather would have made it with room to spare.

Still, that was not to be the case, but all that can help him and the No. 24 team find even more spirit deep inside themselves to go from Chase dark horse to champion 10 weeks from now.

"I'm the biggest believer in you make your own luck by being the best team out there. And I don't feel like we've been the best team out there so far this season."

So now you can see why Gordon is putting his face and mustache front and center. If the mustache can serve as a motivating tool, as well as a foil to deflect some of the bad things that happened to him and his team earlier this season, he may very well surprise everyone in 2012 in much the same fashion as Tony Stewart did by winning five races in last year's Chase en route to his third career Cup championship.

"What I love about the Chase is that it's all about timing," Gordon said. "If you pull together and you improve those things in areas that you're weak in at the right time and make your way into it and Tony (Stewart) proved that last year that anything is possible, and especially after Saturday night's performance (at Richmond), we definitely feel like this season has just now been rejuvenated for us, we're on a clean slate and we've got an excellent opportunity to do something pretty spectacular that we might not have expected with this season and the way it could possibly turn out."

While the mustache is a nice gimmick and motivating tool, it's not going to win Gordon any races. After his win at Pocono six weeks ago, giving a resurgence to his Chase hopes, Gordon and his team knew that the only way they'd make the Chase would be to adopt a win-or-go-home mindset. Given the performance in the last three races, it's working.

Now it's a matter of continuing that on for 10 more races.

"That's what got us into this thing and that's what's going to keep us in it and get us the championship," Gordon said. "If anything, I think what these last three weeks and really this season has proven to us is that you have to aggressively pursue wins and obviously accumulate the most points. That's what wins this championship.

"We're going out there with nothing to lose and everything to gain, just the same way that we've approached these last races in the last several weeks. We didn't expect to be here. The pressure is on us right now.

"Everything changes here, this weekend. Everybody ramps up, everybody brings out their best. And we're going to find out if our best is capable of winning the championship."

NOTES: Not only did Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won Saturday's Dollar General 300 in the Nationwide Series, he finally unseated previous points leader Elliott Sadler from the top spot in the standings. Sadler had lead the Nationwide Series points for the last 20 weeks, but Stenhouse now leads Sadler by nine points. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew reportedly had to change the motor in his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, which means Junior will likely start Sunday's Geico 400 Sprint Cup race from the back of the 43-car field.

Former Blackhawks D-man Trevor Daley reflects on bittersweet postseason with Penguins

Former Blackhawks D-man Trevor Daley reflects on bittersweet postseason with Penguins

Trevor Daley’s hearing the same chatter in the Pittsburgh Penguins this season as he did with the Blackhawks last fall.

“It feels a lot like when I started last year with Chicago, where a lot of guys were speaking the same thing: ‘We want to try to do it again,’” Daley said on Wednesday evening. “I felt I was in that situation with the same feeling with the guys around me, so it was an exciting time.”

Well, there is one difference this time around. When Daley was traded to the Blackhawks in the summer of 2015 he didn’t know that feeling of winning a Stanley Cup. Now, he does. After the Blackhawks traded Daley to Pittsburgh he became a key part of the Penguins’ run to their Cup triumph.

Daley fit in immediately with the Penguins because they all found common ground: he wasn’t the only one going through changes at the time. Daley was traded to Pittsburgh two days after the team named Mike Sullivan its new head coach.

“The way they were going with a new coach coming in, I think everyone was happy to have a fresh start, including myself. I felt I was in the same situation they were,” Daley said. “It all worked out obviously in the long run. But a lot for my success had to do with being on the same page as everyone else.”

Daley suffered a fractured ankle in late May, missing the rest of the postseason. But after the Penguins won the Cup in Game 6 against the San Jose Sharks, Daley, on the ice in full uniform and skates, was the first to get the Cup from captain Sidney Crosby.

“When you get to hoist that thing,” Daley said. “There’s nothing better than that.”

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The postseason was bittersweet for Daley, as his mother became ill with cancer as the playoffs began. She got to see Daley hoist the Cup on June 13. Sadly, she died on June 21.

“Pittsburgh was great to me. I got to go home in between series. When I had time off I got to see her and when I got hurt I got to spend more time with her. It did make it bittersweet,” Daley said. “Before she passed she would always say, ‘Why are you here? I want you to be playing.’ But under the circumstances, at least I got to say I got to spend a little more time with her.”

The Penguins are waiting for a few players, including Crosby, to return from the World Cup. Who knows how the season unfolds but much like last fall, Daley is part of the let’s-try-to-repeat talk.

“We’re excited for those guys to be able to have the opportunity they have [at World Cup]. We get to watch the best player in the world doing what he does, knowing he’s coming back to us,” Daley said of Crosby. “We’ve been enjoying it; we’ve been staying in touch with them while they’re gone. Most of them are back now. Those guys are going to be ready to go. They’ve already played some big games, so it’ll be good.”

Bears have run hurry-up offense, Brian Hoyer style

Bears have run hurry-up offense, Brian Hoyer style

Brian Hoyer spent Wednesday’s practice as the presumptive No. 1 quarterback, sources said, and with Jay Cutler limited due to his thumb injury, the Bears began prep for the Detroit Lions next Sunday in Soldier Field with Hoyer getting more used to the offense that he has only sparingly run since training camp.

Some of Hoyer’s teammates spent Wednesday’s practice getting a little more used to him.

A veteran of 27 NFL starts, Hoyer doesn’t do things the way Cutler does them. He doesn’t throw as hard. He doesn’t throw as far. And he runs a sort-of hurry-up offense compared to Cutler.

“Hoyer has a real good sense of urgency to him,” said left tackle Charles Leno Jr. “He’s more fast paced. He likes to quicken up things, whether it’s the cadence, the flow – he just has a real natural sense of urgency about himself.”

This involves more than just a feeling. The Bears ARE faster under Hoyer, based on one very unofficial measure, because game situations differ even though the Bears ultimately lost all three games.

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Based on snaps and time played, the Bears have run 2.2 plays per minute with Cutler. They have run 2.6 per minute, approaching 20 percent more, under “urgent” Hoyer.

The play rate, however, is not entirely on the quarterback. Like all teams, the Bears build tempos into their system, and defenses also dictate some of how the Bears elect to work.

Still, “Jay is more laid back, more relaxed, even-keeled,” Leno said, smiling. “But that’s just Hoyer, more sense of urgency."