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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Before walking out to his car for Saturday morning's qualifying session at Watkins Glen International, Jeff Gordon phoned home to wish son Leo a happy fourth birthday.

While he was on the line, Gordon told his son something he wasn't sure was true: That Gordon would deliver a pole position for Leo's big day.

"I wasn't really confident in that statement," Gordon acknowledged later.

After all, Gordon hadn't won a pole all season. He hadn't gotten one at Watkins Glen since 2007. But sure enough, Gordon came through with his promise — even beating favorite Marcos Ambrose.

Those are the type of pledges Gordon can make — and back up — this season, in which he's returned to the form that made him a four-time Cup champion.

Along the way — including stops in victory lanes at places like Kansas Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway — Gordon has been able to share the experience with his family.

"That's why this year has just been phenomenal," he said. "This has been one of the best years I've ever had because of how good things are at home and how good things are at the racetrack. Life is good. I'm enjoying the heck out of it."

Watkins Glen is the perfect example of Gordon's career resurgence. He's won at the 2.45-mile track four times, but not since 2001.

If that sounds familiar, it's because it mirrors his championship record: Four titles, none since 2001.

"Watkins Glen has kind of been a target on our radar because we've run so poorly here recently," said Gordon, who has only two top-10 finishes in his last 12 starts at the Glen. "You start to lose confidence in what you're doing … and you get off track and lost a little bit."

But regularly running up front this year — Gordon is the series points leader — has given Gordon a spark some of his fans weren't sure they'd ever see again. After all, the 43-year-old might only drive for another couple seasons (he's battled back problems for years).

Every win — and pole — means more now. And his family has been there to enjoy his successes by his side.

"I don't know how many more years I have racing in this series, and certainly to be this late in my career and be this competitive, it's something I didn't know whether it would happen," he said. "But the timing couldn't be better, because (daughter) Ella appreciates and understands it at (age) 7. Leo is just starting to. And even Ingrid (Vandebosch, Gordon's wife) has never really experienced the type of success we're having this year, so it's pretty cool."

After his Brickyard 400 win, Leo initially had no interest in participating in the tradition of kissing the bricks that mark the start/finish line. But when the family returned for more pictures a couple hours later, he finally relented alongside Jeff and Ella.

Gordon picked up a laughing Leo and held him in the air — the picture of happiness. On Saturday, Gordon said he couldn't wait to get back to his phone after winning the pole, knowing it would be lit up with texts and phone calls from his family (who will return to the track on Sunday).

But there's a downside to being a racing parent at times, Gordon said.

"It works both ways," he said. "When your kids come to the racetrack and you don't perform very well, they say, 'What happened? How come you didn't win the race? Evie's dad (Jimmie Johnson) won the race.' You smile and laugh about it, but you can't help but take that personal.

"So on the flip side, when you're able to win the race and they get to see that excitement and be a part of it — that bond you have with your family and the ups and downs you go through — when you experience that moment, it's even better."

Follow Gluck on Twitter@jeff_gluck

PHOTOS: Jeff Gordon through the years

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