Don't count Jeff Gordon out. The media outcry over Gordon's stats this season has now reached a fever pitch.
After spending five sporadic weeks outside of the top ten in points this season people had all but put him in a rocking chair the 'Cracker Barrel' sipping on sweet tea. I mean c'mon. This is Jeff Gordon. Boy wonder, pocketful of pistons, the non-Brooke Shield's bashing Tom Cruise of NASCAR.
Sure, the time to get up on the wheel is now. There are only nine events left before the Chase for the Nextel Cup field is determined but if anyone has the chutzpah to make it happen, it's Gordon. Race fans' and reporters' foundations were shaken in 2005 when Gordon narrowly missed the Chase field. NASCAR lost a lot of leverage with mainstream media by having two of its top tier drivers (Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) being outsiders looking in on the last ten races of the season.
I definitely think we're better than we were last year.
This year, there has to be something to talk about. Something for the Motorsports press to churn through the wood chipper and harp on during the dog days of summer. Earnhardt looks pretty solid in the Chase field but Gordon's charge this season has been touch and go.
He finally managed to climb back into the top ten after a win at Sonoma two weeks ago and the people cheered "He's back!" A mere week later, he got caught up in someone else's mess at Daytona and went from a hero to a zero in less than one lap. So, now the four-time champion faces jeers and sneers again as the masses wonder if Gordon has lost his "edge".
Maybe he has. Who cares?
Gordon's place in NASCAR history is unimpeachable. With the new points format it is highly unlikely that another driver will amass four Cup series championships. It is also improbable that Gordon would be able to earn three more to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
As it sits now, Gordon is seventh on the all time win list, just two races behind Dale Earnhardt, Sr., a fairly certain milestone Gordon will pass in his career. With seven top-10 finishes this season, Gordon is hardly in a slump. Unfortunately, a few bad finishes see him 12th in points headed into Chicago, a track where Gordon has never won. "I definitely think we're better than we were last year," said Gordon. "Chicago is a tricky track. It's fast. There's bumps that definitely make it challenging to figure out how to get the car to not just be fast aerodynamically and but you have to handle those bumps as well. "I think that there's no reason why we shouldn't be good when we get there this weekend and I'm looking forward to that challenge and the fact that we haven't won there. To me that just inspires us to get that first win there. I think things are going well for our team right now, and even though we had the win a couple weeks ago and the momentum and we had a great run going Saturday night, we've got to just keep building on that, even though we didn't have a good finish. "I think Chicago is going to be one of our big challenges for this year. It was probably our toughest track we went to last year. We were really far off and hoping that you know, we've made gains and we will find out here in a couple days." But, when you want to think Gordon's season has come undone and there is no shot of him making the Chase - ask yourself this: do we really think that some of the players in the top ten right now aren't going to choke?
Favorable tracks ahead
There are a bevy of tracks coming up where Gordon runs exceptionally well. If Team 24 can capitalize on Gordon's history they should have no problem getting back in the Top 10.
"Obviously I think that places that we run exceptionally well, at Bristol, Watkins Glen, the shorter tracks; New Hampshire can be a great track for us as well," Gordon commented. "They definitely are places that we feel like we've got to take advantage of. But at the same time, we have to get better at tracks like Chicago and Kansas and the mile-and-a-halves.
"So we don't want to have to rely on just certain tracks that we feel like are, you know, the better tracks for us. We want to make sure that we can secure a way into the Chase by being strong and by being good at as many tracks as possible so when we do get in the Chase, we're a threat for the championship, not just, you know, just a car in the Chase."
In the end, Gordon will be just fine no matter what happens after the Richmond race a couple of months from now. He's worth a gazillion dollars and he's marrying a Belgian super model. Methinks, everyone can stop worrying about 'poor old Jeff'. If he never raced another day, he would still be one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history.
The thing about Gordon is you can just never count him out.