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Williams: Jeff Gordon Is Driving Like It’s 1998

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 16 2011

Signs indicate that Jeff Gordon could be headed for a fifth Sprint Cup championship this year. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

Don’t be surprised if Jeff Gordon snaps Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson’s five straight championship streak to claim his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title this year.

By collecting his 85th career victory at Atlanta two weeks ago in an intense battle with Johnson, Gordon sparked his solid, consistent team, providing it with tremendous momentum heading into the 10-race Chase. He showed Johnson could be defeated, that he possibly no longer possesses that golden horseshoe that seemed to always provide him with a victory no matter the situation. To date, Johnson and his team haven’t possessed the mystique that existed in years past. They’ve won only one race, produced 11 top-5s, 17 top-10s and are having to start the title Chase as the sixth seed.

Gordon, with three victories this season, begins his championship bid seeded third. Statistically, he has 10 top-5s and 14 top-10s in the first 26 races. Both he and Johnson have failed to finish races this season. Johnson one and Gordon two in that department.

In other statistical categories they are fairly close. Gordon has the better average start, 13.6 to 14.0, and has led more laps, 721 to 655, a 66-lap difference. Johnson, however, has the better average finish, 10.6 to 11.6. He also possesses more laps in the top-15, 5,233 to 5,171. That, however, is a mere 62 lap difference.

However, it’s Gordon’s demeanor this year that leads me to believe he’ll out-perform Johnson’s team in the Chase. There’s a very quiet, secure confidence in Gordon this year that I’ve never seen in him before. It’s a manly confidence that I’ve seen in only one other driver in the last 20 years and that was Dale Earnhardt in the 1990s when he walked off with his sixth and seventh championships.

Gordon seems to be the leader of his team this season, not the crew chief as it was in the Ray Evernham years. A decade ago when Gordon won his fourth title with crew chief Robbie Loomis it seemed they co-led the team. This year, though, with Alan Gustafson as his crew chief, there’s a sense they work together, but Gordon is the team’s leader. At age 40, he’s a man who is comfortable with his life and himself, and he knows what it takes to win a championship. The pressure won’t bother him. After all, he’s been there before.

Gordon’s worst finish since the June Infineon race has been 13th at Watkins Glen in August. He hasn’t finished outside the top 20 since Richmond in May. His worst finish since the Coca-Cola 600 in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway has been 20th and that came in that event. In the last 13 races, Gordon has produced seven top-5s and 11 top-10s.

Since Gordon’s last championship his best season has been 2007 when he placed second in the points with six victories and a series-best of 21 top-5s , 30 top-10s and seven poles. Yet, the California native believes his championship chances are better now than at the same time in 2007.

“While we gave Jimmie a great run and a great battle, I still feel like they had the momentum (in 2007),” Gordon said. “And they were outrunning us just by a little bit on a regular basis. We’re competing with everybody out there right now and lately, I feel like we’ve been better than most on a lot of different types of race tracks – short tracks, superspeedways, intermediates. We’ve got an awesome race team right now.

“We’ve had to work really, really hard to make the improvements that we’ve made in our cars and in our team this year. We know we’re going to have to work equally as hard to maintain that and step up when the Chase starts. The way this team has performed this year, there’s not one track in these next 10 weeks that scares me, because I think we really have done a great job dissecting down our issues and addressing them, making our cars better as we go to those tracks.”

Those are facts that should concern everyone in the Chase.

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 16 2011
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  • Dick says:

    Yep! JG goes like a house-a-fire…………..unless there’a a restart in the closing laps! Then he’ll “nail down” third place!!