NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2010 NASCAR Driver Review: Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon

2010 Ride: No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2010 Primary Sponsors: DuPont, Pepsi, National Guard
2010 Owner: Rick Hendrick
2010 Crew Chief: Steve Letarte
2010 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 11 top fives, 17 top 10s, 1 pole, four DNFs, ninth in points

High Points: Gordon could easily have won four or five races this season. His car was competitive, he drove outstanding events and he started 2010 hot by leading 219 laps at Vegas, 92 at Martinsville, 124 at Texas, 144 at Richmond and 110 at Darlington. But during all those races, a troubling trend was emerging. The hallmark of the No. 24 team used to be (back in the day) taking an ill-handling car and improving on it during the race so Gordon would emerge late in the event to steal yet another improbable victory.

That doesn’t happen anymore. All too often lately, the team seems to take a good car and adjust it out of the ballpark during the race. Anyone who doubts if Gordon’s competitive fires are still burning, though, must have missed the little shoving match he got into with Jeff Burton at Texas.

Low Points: Almost winning doesn’t pay the big checks or earn the pot metal. Late in the season, Gordon was forced to take one for the team, sending his tried and true pit crew over to take over the same duties for the No. 48 car driven by that New Kid in Town. It wasn’t like Gordon was doing all that well, anyway, with just one top-five result in the Chase and offset by four finishes of 20th or worse. In fact, during the final six races of 2010, Gordon managed just one top-10 result offset by two DNFs.

Has his time finally come and gone? I fear he’s been waiting too long.

Summary: Back in his era during the first part of this century, Gordon was constantly telling people he was a mere mortal. Lately, he’s begun to look that way. Yes, he’s won four titles and 82 races. But the last of those titles was scored almost a decade ago, and he’s won just one Cup race in the last 113. A year of “missed opportunities” at victory lane included some uncharacteristic mistakes, including missing pit road at Darlington and some untimely contact with Matt Kenseth at Martinsville in the spring. By the time the Chase came around, frustration had set in as Gordon was seemingly resigned to falling short to Johnson once again.

2011 Outlook: This past week, team owner Rick Hendrick announced a major shakeup within his organization to try to get his three underperforming teams back on track. Next year Alan Gustafson (formerly crew chief for Mark Martin and the No. 5 team) will be calling the shots for Gordon and the No. 24. Gordon’s crew chief for 2009, Steve Letarte, gets the thankless job of being Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief.

Gordon, who formerly shared living quarters with the all-conquering No. 48 team, is now taking up residence with Gustafson’s shop and the former No. 5 cars. Expect to see Gordon sporting some new colors next year, as well, with his longtime primary sponsor DuPont scaling back while a rather unusual pairing with the AARP’s anti-hunger charity takes over primary sponsorship duties. No longer the top dog at HMS, Gordon needs to reassert himself this year or risk becoming irrelevant.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: B+
2007 Grade: A
2008 Grade: B
2009 Grade: A
2010 Grade: B

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