Jeff “Wonder Boy” Gordon
2006 Ride: No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet
2006 Owner: Rick Hendrick
2006 Crew Chief: Steve LeTarte
Stats: 36 races, 2 wins, 14 top fives, 18 top 10s, sixth in points.
High Point: After ending a one-year drought by securing a spot in this season’s Chase for the Championship, Gordon appeared poised to make a move on the competition. Two consecutive thirds at Loudon and Dover to start off his playoff run left him just six points out of the lead, looking capable of putting together a late season charge towards the title trophy.
Low Point: Of course, that early playoff run for Gordon was quickly quashed over the next month in a series of three consecutive DNFs at Kansas, Talladega, and Charlotte. With two of those problems caused by mechanical failure while running in the top 10, it had to be frustrating for Gordon to watch a possible title-winning season slip away due to circumstances out of his control. It was that type of hard luck year for the No. 24 bunch: Gordon’s seven DNFs were easily the worst of any of the 10 drivers who made the Chase.
Summary: By all accounts, this was one of Gordon’s more eventful years behind the wheel of a racecar. Perhaps more than ever before, the Rainbow Warrior let his emotions shine through in a season that became a successful rebuilding year after missing the Chase in ’05. Early on, Gordon set the stage for drama; a last-lap bump by Matt Kenseth sent him spinning at Bristol, angering Gordon to the point where he physically shoved Kenseth on pit road after the race. Later in the year, Gordon enacted some on-track revenge, spinning the No. 17 car in the waning laps at Chicagoland to steal the win with a bump-and-run.
Over the course of the season, the No. 24 slowly regained its consistency lost over a tumultuous 2005, becoming solid but not spectacular; while they made the Chase, the team visited Victory Lane just twice this season, the lowest total for Gordon since his second year on the circuit in 1994. However, the No. 24 did take the checkered flag at Infineon for a record fifth time at the track, and his 14 top-five finishes in 2006 nearly doubled his total from a year ago. In his personal life, Gordon’s fortunes were also looking up; he became engaged to model Ingrid Vanderbosch in June, with the two exchanging wedding vows in November, shortly before the end of the racing season.
2007 Outlook: Entering the second full year with Steve LeTarte at the helm as crew chief, much of the No. 24 team remains intact for ’07, and with Hendrick one of the few teams working with an already-approved Car of Tomorrow, Gordon should be one of the drivers to beat as he pursues a fifth title. As long as the bad luck stays away from this team, Gordon appears to once again be in a position to be considered an annual lock for the Chase.