As the first half of the 2010 season progressed, it was clear this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup would be a fierce battle amongst a number of top drivers. One driver that particularly stood out as a threat was four-time champion Jeff Gordon. From the outset of the season, Gordon showed a renewed vigor and hunger for the title. The veteran driver has battled hard on the track, ruffled feathers and even got into it with teammate Jimmie Johnson on a number of occasions.
Following last weekend’s third-place run in Chicago – his fifth top five in a row – Gordon sits second in the standings with only seven races left before the start of the Chase. While he has been one of the strongest contenders week-in and week-out, Gordon has failed to find victory lane thus far in 2010. In fact, Gordon is now working a 48-race winless streak, the longest of his storied career.
“I mean, our team’s been consistently running up front,” Gordon following his run in Chicago. “Tonight we had a fast racecar. We’ve had the consistency. We just haven’t had the car to win or all the pieces as a team to get ourselves into victory lane.”
With the top 12 being reset at the beginning of the Chase, Gordon and his team are now at a disadvantage with no wins on their side. Currently, Johnson and Denny Hamlin lead the way with five wins each, followed by Kevin Harvick and the Busch brothers with two apiece. Despite having 10 top fives (more than any other driver) and 11 top 10s, Gordon would find himself ranked sixth in the Chase if he fails to find victory lane in the next seven events.
Looking ahead to the next seven races, Gordon has put up some impressive numbers at those tracks over the years.
Indianapolis – 4 wins, 9 top fives, 13 top 10s
Pocono – 4 wins, 16 top fives, 24 top 10s
Watkins Glen – 4 wins, 6 top fives, 8 top 10s
Michigan – 2 wins, 18 top fives, 23 top 10s
Bristol – 5 wins, 14 top fives, 20 top 10s
Atlanta – 4 wins, 14 top fives, 23 top 10s
Richmond – 2 wins, 14 top fives, 23 top 10s
With a combined 25 wins at the next seven tracks the series visits, Gordon has a great shot to get the job done, but he first must kick this winless drought that his following him now for 48 events. What is more daunting is when you consider the driver with 82 career wins has only been to victory lane once in the last 96 races.
“At times we’ve had the car, for whatever reasons, blame it on me, blame it on incidents, I don’t like to point fingers, but we haven’t gotten to victory lane,” Gordon said. “We’re very optimistic. We got a great package going to Indy. We’ve been working really, really hard on everything that we can to find speed. We think we’ve got some things up our sleeve for Indy.”
As he pointed out, it has not been a lack of effort or poorly set up cars that have kept the former champion out of the win column. In fact, it may be the aggressiveness Gordon has shown as of late that has hindered his efforts at securing that elusive win. We saw Gordon surge on a late restart in Martinsville, get caught up in a shoving match with former rival Matt Kenseth and subsequently lose the race to Hamlin.
If he wants to be a serious contender come the last ten weeks of the year, Gordon needs to find victory lane and find it soon. With a regular season win counting for 10 bonus points once the Chase field is reset, Johnson and Hamlin have already amassed 50 bonus points, while Harvick, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch currently have 20 bonus points and all of them are a threat to score more wins over the next seven weeks. At a time in which each race and each point means more than ever before, Gordon needs to have those bonus points on his side going into the final 10-race playoff.
“I’m happy that we’re second in points, but I will be honest with you, I would rather be seventh in points with five wins right now,” Gordon said prior to last weekend’s race in Chicago. “I think that for us, we’ve been in this position before and what we need to do is be in a more solid position to really compete for the championship. And I think that when you spot guys like Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and these guys 30 or 40 or 50 points, that’s tough to make up in 10 races. Two or three wins is what’s on our priority list these next eight races.”
By scoring a win heading into the Chase, not only will Gordon gain the much needed bonus points, he and his crew will regain the confidence that they can put a good weekend together and seal the deal when it matters most. In addition, once Gordon gets one win under his belt, it is likely more will follow. In 2007, Gordon went on a hot streak earning five poles, three wins and seven top-five finishes in seven races.
A lot has changed since then, and Gordon has changed as well. About to make his 601st career start, Gordon is anticipating the birth of his second child, has dealt with back issues and simply is not the kid he used to be. This doesn’t mean he lost what it takes to win races; it just means he may have a harder time doing so these days.