Woody: Gordon’s A Goner In The Chase
Another one bites the dust.
While Jimmie Johnson was blowing away the field last Sunday at Kansas Speedway Jeff Gordon was blowing a motor, and with it his hopes for that oh-so-elusive 5th championship.
Gordon finished 34th and sank to 10th in the standings.
With just six races to go, starting Saturday night at Charlotte, that’s too deep a hole from which to climb. Wonder Boy can only wonder what went wrong.
It’s now an eight-man race, and even that might be stretching it. Nine through 12 are toast – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Gordon, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin – and No. 7 Kyle Busch and No. 8 Tony Stewart are hanging on by their fingernails.
As we’ve said before, it’s not just the points but the position. In order for Gordon to win the championship he not only has to make up 47 points, he has to overtake nine drivers ahead of him in the next six races. He might be able to pass two or three, maybe even four or five, but not all nine. All nine drivers ahead of him – including fiery points leader Kevin Harvick,
steady Carl Edwards and sizzling Johnson – aren’t going to collapse.
I picked Jeff to win the championship this year, both at the start of the season and going into the Chase. I thought he and his team had ironed out the glitches and exorcised the gremlins that had hampered their performances in recent years. I thought NASCAR’s winningest active driver was back in his groove.
I was wrong.
I remember a time when Jeff Gordon didn’t blow engines. Or make mistakes. Or get caught up in somebody else’s troubles. Those things happened to other drivers.
Then Jeff suddenly became mortal and teammate Jimmie inherited the magic carpet.
The most recent of Gordon’s four championships came in 2001. He hasn’t exactly been chopped liver during the ensuing decade; he has collected his share of wins, including three so far this season for 85, third-highest in NASCAR history.
But he has also had two goose-egg seasons during that span (one win in three years going into this season) and finished 9th in the standings last season. Not being in title contention is uncharacteristic for Gordon, and that’s why I thought he would come roaring back with a vengeance this year.
But no matter how good a driver he may be – and I still think Jeff ranks among the best ever – he can’t win when his car is sitting the garage belching smoke or being towed away on a wrecker hook.
Magnifying Gordon’s mechanical miseries is the smooth sailing enjoyed by Johnson as he chases a 6th straight championship – the most incredible feat in NASCAR history.
Even though they ostensibly get equal equipment and support at Hendrick Motorsports, Jimmie’s cars seem to be considerably more equal than Jeff’s.
Last Sunday’s race was a perfect example. At the end Jimmie had a rocket ship and Jeff had a bottle rocket.
Gordon fans are starting to ask the same question as Earnhardt fans: how come Johnson’s cars are so superior to his teammates’? Or is the difference in the drivers?
I imagine that Jeff and Junior are wondering the same thing as they play out the season and – once again – wait ‘till next year.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments