In his defense, Gordon endured much By Dave Rodman NEW YORK (Dec. 1, 1999) Oh, the slings Jeff Gordon had to endure in 1999 as he defended his third NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship in the last four years. From losing the only crew...
In his defense, Gordon endured much By Dave Rodman
NEW YORK (Dec. 1, 1999) Oh, the slings Jeff Gordon had to endure in 1999 as he defended his third NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship in the last four years. From losing the only crew chief he'd ever known to the prospect of losing most of his race day pit crew in 2000, Gordon -- arguably the 1990s best NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver -- probably did well to come away with a sixth place in points.
More than once he went out of his way to explain that, yes, his season was not a disappointment. And why should it have been? Gordon won a series-leading seven races, won the season-long Bud Pole Award competition by three top starting spots and led the most miles in the series by more than 100.
None of those was a mean feat. Why then, does he still have to defend his year? Because Gordon is the standard by which virtually every team has measured itself through more than two-thirds of the 1990s. He has won 49 races since his first score in 1994 -- including a record setting four straight years as the standard bearer in that department.
Gordon was forced into a more front-and-center role after the departure of Ray Evernham, who had structured the No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Chevrolet team since its creation. Evernham left with seven races remaining in the season, when his desire to own and operate his own organization outstripped any desire he had to continue to mold the organization at Hendrick Motorsports. Evernham will debut one of Dodge's factory efforts in the 2001 season.
In the next two races after Evernham's departure, Gordon won at Martinsville, Va., and Concord, N.C., with former engineer and original No. 24 Rainbow Warrior Brian Whitesell elevated to crew chief. But that early success might've been mated to the last vestiges of Evernham's influence, as the team floundered somewhat down the stretch, including logging its seventh Did Not Finish in the season finale NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
"Our new Chevrolet (2000 Monte Carlo) is going to help us quite a bit," Gordon said of his look ahead. He acknowledged, though, that there are a lot of reasons for the 'shortfalls' of 1999. His production fell from his career highs of 25 top-5s and 27 top-10s in 1998 to 18 and 21 in 1999.
"We've got to make a lot of adjustments over the off season because we lost our pit crew and Ray and a couple of other guys," Gordon said of the race day crewmen who informed the team with about three races to go in the season that they would work in 2000 for 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Jarrett's owner, Robert Yates.
"We weren't really prepared for this at the end of the season," Gordon said. "If you're not perfect, you're not going to be able to win races."
Well, if Gordon and his team might've been a touch under the weather in 1999, they were still good enough to achieve the marks quoted earlier. Still, he did drop from 13 wins in 1998 to seven in 1999.
Gordon said he was optimistic about the coming season and what he and the current organization have to look forward to.
"We were fortunate enough to win the first two out of the box (without Evernham) and we're still pumped up, too," he said. "I believe in these guys. I believe in Brian Whitesell. He's making some great calls.
"When things aren't clicking and there's distractions, it's hard for things to go your way. I'm looking forward to the off-season to get this team back on track. I feel really good about our efforts and everything we're going to have for the 2000 season."
"We didn't expect this to happen late in the season," Gordon said of the departed crewmen. "We've been dealt some things we didn't want. I think we've done a pretty good job, and I think we're going to be pretty strong. These guys will regroup in the off-season and we'll be ready to go next year.
"To have a year when you don't win the championship keeps you motivated. It keeps you hungry and maybe allows you to rest a little bit. We've been battling for the championship the last four years in a row. It's been tough on me and the entire team.
"I think we're going to adjust to the changes we're making and come back stronger than ever next season and ready to win another championship."
That may indicate Gordon is ready to set another standard in 2000.
Jeff Gordon is optimistic about 2000 and what Hendrick Motorsports has to look forward to.