When you've done as many things right as Jeff Gordon has during his NASCAR career, it makes it that much more noticeable when you do something wrong.
April 15 at Texas Motor Speedway, Gordon led late before slapping the wall in his No. 24 Chevrolet. He hit it hard enough to wreck his chances to win a Nextel Cup race at the 1.5-mile track where he'll start second Sunday.
"This is a very easy track for that mistake to be made," said Gordon, who finished fourth. "You carry a lot of speed off the corners here, the walls come up on you in a hurry. The track narrows up there.
"What I beat myself up the most about that deal is I didn't need to be pushing quite that hard. I had quite a good lead."
Gordon, of course, has done enough things right to win 81 Cup races and four championships. But with only a nine-point lead over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, Gordon knows there's little margin for error if he wants to win the sport's top prize for the first time since 2001.
"It is never good to know you made a mistake that cost you a win," Gordon said. "I am always my harshest critic and I am going to admit when I am wrong and make mistakes and try not to do the same thing twice."
This track has been particularly nettlesome for him.
Gordon has won at 20 of the 22 tracks currently on the circuit, with Texas and Homestead, Fla., missing from his trophy collection. He's had six top-10 finishes in 13 tries at Texas, and while that percentage of 46.2 would be the envy of most drivers, it's not so hot compared to his 61.0 percentage of top-10 finishes at other tracks.
Gordon did run off four top-fives in a row at Texas, between 2001 and 2004 when the track had one Cup race per season, and he has finished ninth and fourth in the past two starts.
But because this is a track where he has had some missteps, there's an abiding perception that today's Dickies 500 is important for Gordon's title hopes. Johnson has won the past two weekends and champed off 59 points from a lead Gordon built with his two-race win streak at Talladega, Ala., and Lowe's Motor Speedway.
With only three races left, though, Gordon said everything is big at this stage.
"Anytime you're in a points battle, it's intense," he said. "Every single moment you're on the track, the way the car is handling, the position that you're in, everything that's happening going through your mind is extremely intense and a lot pressure."
Johnson, who will start eighth Sunday, said if Gordon is feeling pressure it's not showing.
"He's such a seasoned veteran," said Johnson, who is looking to be the first back-to-back champion since Gordon in 1997-98. "I've seen him driving more aggressively, more intense. He wants this (title) more than I've ever seen. But I find it hard to believe though that he's under any more pressure. ... I'm not sure he's under any more (pressure) than what we are."
Gordon said having a nine-point lead is better than no advantage, but he knows what happens Sunday, at Phoenix next Sunday and in the finale at Homestead will determine the champion.
"There's just no points lead that's comfortable enough," Gordon said. "It's almost better that it's close because when it's a wider gap sometimes you take an extra breath and think that you've got room to relax and you really don't.
"That's when it reaches out and bites you."