Woody: Pressure Could Be Getting To Gordon
Larry Woody | Senior Writer
Last Sunday’s Texas smackdown between Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton was significant not for the physical damage inflicted – I’ve seen better brawls during a blue-light special at WalMart – but because of what it indicated:
Gordon is feeling the pressure.
Not that he didn’t have ample reason to be peeved after Burton put him in the wall under caution, destroying his car and ending any frail chance he might had of winning the race.
It was a careless, uncharacteristic error on the part of Burton. He apologized and said he didn’t mean to do it. He said he “deserved” getting shoved around by Gordon.
But apologizing couldn’t repair Gordon’s car. It couldn’t get him back in the race. It couldn’t salvage something from the dregs of a nightmare season.
Gordon is sixth in the standings and out of championship contention. With two races to go only three drivers are in the running – Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.
Gordon is not the only disappointed Chase driver. He’s not the only one who got into NASCAR’s playoffs then couldn’t make plays. He’s just one of nine.
Likewise he’s not the only driver who hasn’t won this season. He’s not the only driver who went into Daytona with high hopes and will head to Homestead in a couple of weeks with his tail between his legs.
But those other also-runs are not Jeff Gordon. They aren’t former four-time champions. They don’t have won 82 Cup victories. They weren’t once regarded as perhaps the best in history.
And suddenly the victories and championships that once seemed to come so quickly and easily have stopped coming. Such hard, jolting stops can take a toll on a racer.
Gordon is 0-34 this season as the longest losing streak of his career grinds on and on. Barring an upset Sunday at Phoenix or next weekend at Homestead, it’s going to be a long, cold winter at the Gordon household.
What happened? Nobody knows. Gordon is getting the best cars money can buy. Teammate Johnson has driven Hendrick Motorsports creations to a record four straight championships and has a shot at a fifth.
Since Jimmie’s cars go fast, why don’t Jeff’s? If Jimmie can capitalize on the unlimited Hendrick resources and technology, why can’t Jeff? Those are question that have been buzzing around Gordon’s ears for five years.
If the slump is not due to mechanics then it must be the driver. Yet when Gordon is asked about his focus and determination – his will to win – he insists it is as keen as ever.
I believe him. Like any great athlete Jeff is aware of his place in his sport’s history and he takes pride in it. The pride and the passion are still there – as witnessed in last Sunday’s Texas boil-over.
Gordon still wants to win, perhaps more desperately than at any time in his career. The fact that he can’t is grating on him. His career is a chalkboard and every humbling loss is a screech of fingernails on the slate.
No wonder he has become an extremely jittery Jeff.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment