2008 Ride: No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2008 Primary Sponsors: DuPont, Nicorette
2008 Owner: Rick Hendrick
2008 Crew Chief: Steve Letarte
Stats: 36 races, 0 wins, 13 top fives, 19 top 10s, 4 poles, seventh in points.
High Point: It would be difficult to find a high point in the first winless season since 1993 for the four time champ; but if you had to pick, it would probably be a second place finish at Texas Motor Speedway. One of two tracks on the Cup circuit where Jeff Gordon has never visited Victory Lane, he pulled off a strong performance on fuel mileage after a dismal showing in the April race there. Combine that with other strong runs towards the end of the season, when — after all the dust had cleared — the No. 24 team had climbed to seventh in the standings. That’s hardly an awful season by anyone’s standards, and only slightly under par for a team that is a threat to win it all every year.
Low Point: Easily the aforementioned Texas race. After a few dozen laps of falling a lap down and struggling mightily with an extremely ill-handling race car, Gordon spun out and crashed attempting to avoid going another lap down. After taking the car to the garage for some fixes and informing his crew that Texas would be a test session the rest of the day, the No. 24 came back out onto the racetrack, but picked up no positions and finished 43rd.
Summary: Gordon and the No. 24 team struggled all year long to get a handle on the new car at intermediate tracks, an issue that proved to be their downfall just one year after collecting six wins and a modern-era record 30 top 10 finishes.
Those numbers were significantly reduced during an ’08 season in which Gordon led the least amount of laps in his career since 2000. Still, with the exception of a few DNFs, the team ran well enough nearly everywhere to make the Chase with ease. After the playoffs began, Gordon scored a seventh at Dover and a fourth at Kansas, but was more or less out of the running for the title after losing an engine at Talladega. But beyond that misstep and a broken engine at Phoenix, the No. 24 team finished out of the top 10 only once in the Chase. Instead, they appeared to build momentum for the season ahead, with top 10 finishes at four of the five intermediate tracks in the postseason. That’s a good sign their speedway troubles are finally beginning to fade away.
2009 Outlook: Despite some grumblings from press and others that perhaps crew chief Steve Letarte should take the fall for a winless season, Letarte will be back on the pit box for 2009. That means the only major change that appears to be happening with the No. 24 will be the shiny new paint job on the car. The blue and red going along with the flames will turn jet black in 2009, similar to the Hot Hues scheme occasionally seen on the No. 24. With teammate Jimmie Johnson continuing to tear it up on the race track, you know the always forward-thinking Gordon is not likely to tolerate a second winless season by his side; instead, look for the superstar to come charging back out of the gate in 2009.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: B+.
2007 Grade: A.
2008 Grade: B.