Jeff Gordon uses race at Texas as Chase learning experience

A skydiving team displays a special flag honoring Jeff Gordon prior to Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon was the only driver with nothing to lose heading into Sunday’s AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Thanks to his victory a week earlier at Martinsville Speedway, Gordon was already locked into the Championship Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which takes place in two weeks at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Whether Gordon won again at Texas or finished 43rd had no bearing on the seeding or points at Homestead. Gordon and three other drivers — none of whom has been determined yet — will all start the season-ending race at Homestead tied in points. Whichever driver has the best finish of the four in the season finale will be the champ.

With that in mind, Gordon could relax a little at Texas, where he drove the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to a solid but unspectacular ninth-place finish. It was Gordon’s fifth consecutive top-10 finish.

Mr. Clean: Jimmie Johnson did what he does best to secure win in Texas

With just two races left before he retires, Gordon said Texas was an education experience for he and his teammates, especially given that Jimmie Johnson drove a Hendrick Chevrolet to victory.

"I thought we learned a lot this weekend," said Gordon. "I think we certainly know that our cars are fast because our teammate won. Congrats to him. I think that’s awesome he beat the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski). That is spectacular, I’m going to give him a big hug for that. At the same time I think that we were here to execute and push hard, try to win, but also to just learn what we could. I thought we learned some stuff."

Last year in this race, of course, Keselowski and Gordon made contact late in the race, which ultimately resulted in Gordon being knocked out of the Chase. So it’s not surprising that Gordon took some satisfaction in Johnson’s victory.

Now, though, the focus turns to next week’s race in Phoenix and the championship battle at Homestead.

"We just have to keep performing," said Gordon. "I think we showed again what we are made of. We fight hard. We get everything out of it that’s for sure. We got to bring a little bit more to the next couple of races and if we do I will be excited about Homestead."