Race Weekend Central

What’s the Call? Jeff Gordon on the Right Track in 2006?

Welcome to this week’s edition of What’s the Call? Each week, two of your favorite Frontstretch writers will duke it out in a debate concerning one of NASCAR’s big controversies. Don’t let us be the only ones to speak our minds, though… be sure to read both sides and let us know what you think about the situation in the comment section below!

Editor’s Note: This week, we present a little different version of your favorite column… we offer you one side of the debate, while YOU, the fans, are responsible for convincing us the other side of the argument is the right one to pick. Please feel free to use the comments section and let us know how you feel.

This Week’s Question: With Jeff Gordon‘s year all but finished after this week’s engine failure, would you view this season as a step forward or a step back for the No. 24 team?

No Title for Gordon This Year… But Team is a Winner

Gordon’s championship hopes have about evaporated due to mechanical problems and accidents in the last few races, but don’t be fooled; this team has still made tremendous progress since last season. The biggest indicator is the fact that Gordon simply made the Chase at all. Last year, he was on the outside looking in while this year he made it comfortably. Comfortably enough, in fact; that he could finish behind all of the other Chase hopefuls in 31st at Richmond and still safely make the show.

On top of that, while Gordon is at the bottom of the standings now, things didn’t start off that way. He posted third-place finishes in the first two Chase races and climbed as high as second in the rankings, just a few points out of the lead, before trouble struck the No. 24 Dupont Chevy in the last three races. If it weren’t for mechanical failures and the kind of bad luck at Talladega that could strike anyone, Gordon could very well be leading the standings, because he was a contender in all three races. These finishes could just as easily be three wins as three DNFs.

I did not think entering the Chase that Gordon’s team had the consistency to win the championship; however, those two performances in the first two races as well as a number of other good runs during the first 26 races of the season are an indication that this is a building year and the team is going in the right direction. While they may not yet be championship caliber, Gordon and his team have posted 12 top-five finishes, including two wins.

Those are good numbers for most other teams and while they are not Gordon’s best figures, they are an improvement over last season, when they posted just eight top fives and a distressing 12 finishes of 30th or worse. Additionally, the chemistry enjoyed by Gordon and new crew chief Steve Letarte has only improved in their first full season together.

No matter what the last three races have done to Gordon’s championship hopes, this team is on the right track in the grand scheme of things and should continue to get stronger. I would not be surprised to see them make a genuine run at the championship next season. – Toni Heffelfinger

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