2012 Ride: No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2012 Primary Sponsors: Drive to End Hunger (22 races), Pepsi Max (2 races), DuPont (12 races)
2012 Owners: Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon
2012 Crew Chief: Alan Gustafson
Stats: 36 Starts, 2 Wins, 11 Top 5s, 18 Top 10s, 2 Poles, 5 DNFs, 10th in Points.
Best Finish: 1st – twice (Pocono-2, Homestead).
Average Finish: 14.1.
2012 Team Ranking: 3rd out of 4.
High Point and Low Point: There is little point in separating the high and low moments for Jeff Gordon’s year; they are one and the same. As the No. 24 and No. 15 of Clint Bowyer spent lap after lap in Phoenix hammering on one another’s doors, we saw all that is the best of both competitors. But when things went sour — after a roller coaster year filled with horrible luck — the resulting brawl made national news. The moment in which Gordon summoned the anger and fire of his youth, at once raised him back to the pinnacle of his career… and plunged him to the bottom of popular opinion. Whether or not this alters his future, one thing is certain: fans will remember the sudden “rivalry” that erupted between Gordon and Bowyer at least through 2013.
Summary: Jeff Gordon started 2012 by celebrating 20 years in the highest echelon of NASCAR. But the party ended nearly as soon as it began. His engine expired early in the evening of the Daytona 500 and the season followed that pattern of frustration. Twelve times, the No. 24 failed to finish on the lead lap. Five times, it headed to the garage early. Race after race, Gordon would lead the pack only to fall victim to poor timing, a mechanical failure or other plain bad luck. It did not look at all certain he would even make the Chase, through most of the Spring and Summer. But the rain-shortened victory at Pocono in August seemed to put the No. 24 team on the right track, and miraculously a late surge landed them in the postseason through a “wild card” slot. Even then, the first race of the playoffs, at Chicagoland Gordon had a stuck throttle while running inside the top 5; his title run, while a bit of a longshot was over before it began. 2012 was never meant to be Five-Time for the driver who changed the face of NASCAR in the ’90’s.
In the penultimate race of the season, though Gordon rediscovered some of the go-or-go-home attitude often seen in his younger days. Yes, the teams of the No. 24 and No. 15 got into one heck of a brawl and Gordon earned a sizable fine for his intentional wrecking of Bowyer, but it also lined him up to take a win at Homestead.
The No. 24 looked stout during that season finale, momentum that could carry over right through the following February. Gordon says he’s done being angry, but there are those who have not forgiven so easily. Perhaps the lingering sore feelings will create a little bit of a hindrance. Or perhaps it will fuel the winningest active driver in the garage, one who looks to find his championship form one more time in 2013.
Off-Track News: This month, Jeff Gordon was honored by the NMPA as the recipient of the Myers Brothers Award, in recognition for his contributions to the sport (four championships and 87 wins) and for his charitable efforts outside NASCAR. The Jeff Gordon Foundation continues to raise funds for childhood cancer research. He visited Rwanda again this year to assist in opening a cancer center in that country. Also, Gordon was selected to receive the Heisman Humanitarian Award at the 78th Annual Heisman Memorial Trophy Dinner, last weekend in New York in further recognition of all his foundation has achieved.
2013 Outlook: The No. 24 is riding high after a dramatic finish to the 2012 season. Alan Gustafson remains atop the box and sponsorship is locked in for the team. Jeff Gordon still appears as active as ever and remains a leading voice in the Sprint Cup garage. The only thing this team can look forward to in 2013 is more success; and, if all the cards fall right possibly finally putting that fifth Cup on the mantle.
2010 Frontstretch.com Grade: B.
2011 Grade: A-.
2012 Grade: A-.
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