Phoenix Championship Review

Gordon 'virtually' clinches championship By Matthew Leach PHOENIX (Oct. 25, 1998) It's not over. But it's pretty doggone close. Jeff Gordon is not, officially, the 1998 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion just yet. But it's tough even for ...

Gordon 'virtually' clinches championship By Matthew Leach PHOENIX (Oct. 25, 1998) It's not over. But it's pretty doggone close. Jeff Gordon is not, officially, the 1998 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion just yet. But it's tough even for Gordon to deny that it's all but a done deal following Sunday's Dura Lube/Kmart 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Gordon, of course, does deny it. As far as he's concerned, he's not the champion until there is no possible way for Mark Martin to deny him. But the relaxed air around the No. 24 team is hard to miss. You can bet they expect to lock up the title next weekend at North Carolina Speedway.

"That word 'virtually' means that I didn't," Gordon said. "I'm not gonna get excited and overwhelmed until it happens. We'll go to Rockingham and maybe it can happen there, and if not, we just go to Atlanta and wait for it to happen there."

You'll notice that although Gordon doesn't claim to have locked up the title, he's pretty certain that he will. And there's good reason for that confidence. If Gordon merely starts the final two races of the season -- no matter what Martin does -- the DuPont Chevrolet team secures its third championship in four years. If Gordon finishes 40th or better in the Nov. 1 ACDelco 400 at Rockingham, he clinches the title before the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

To clinch the title outright at Phoenix, Gordon needed to gain 12 points on Martin. Instead, the defending champ finished seventh in the rain-shortened event, five spots behind second-place Martin. Unofficially, Martin gained 29 points in the standings, trimming the margin to 329 with two races left.

Despite the grim outlook, no one in the No. 6 camp is hanging his head. On the other hand, no one in the No. 24 outfit is popping the champagne just yet.

"I hadn't given it a thought," said Jack Roush, Martin's team owner, when asked about the title chase. "We're doing the best we can. They've had the best program all year. They've won the most races and they've had the fewest problems."

"(We're) disappointed not to have been able to finish the race," No. 24 crew chief Ray Evernham said. "Just couldn't get a handle on it all day. Bounced between tight and loose."

You'd almost think it was just another race. As far as Gordon and his crew were concerned, it was.

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Ray Evernham , Jack Roush , Mark Martin