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Woody: Pressure Could Be Getting To Gordon

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 9 2010

Jeff Gordon's car did not make it back to the garages under its own power on Sunday at Texas. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

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.

Gordon was.

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 lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 9 2010
One Comment

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  • Terry says:

    It’s like watching a once great hitter in a slump and wondering if this is the one he doesn’t pull out of. We have seen it before….Old Bill Elliott was washed up and he pulled a couple of BIG wins at the the end…..look at Gant Allison and Martin.
    Jeff is not in that bracket just yet but soon…..
    He has to really be PRESSING….George Brett at the end…Todd Helton now….
    He has some GOOD YEARS left maybe several with the ease of the clone car.
    Jeff ….remember greatest is living thing….
    His old eyes gone Babe Ruth hit his last 3 dingers in one game…..the last one left FORBES FIELD….
    He was the first person and last person ever to do it.