The Chase for the Sprint Cup is set. (insert disinterested cheers here) We’ve got our line-up. Some drivers like Sunday’s winner Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson have fought the good fight throughout the season and are ranked at the top of the new chart. Kyle Busch refused to let a little thing like a compound fracture to stop him from slipping into the final bouts. We’ve got all the other race winners in there, too—like a very hot Joey Logano. Then we have the ones who just managed to squeak past the 16th in points cut-off.
Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer are all listed as contenders for the 2015 Sprint Cup Championship. However, we all know the likelihood of one of these teams pulling off the lottery win is highly unlikely. Still, one does like to dream. Why do we dream? Because it would be absolutely exhilarating to see Jeff Gordon notch a fifth championship before he hangs up his full-time helmet.
Oh yes, I’m biased. But isn’t life so much better when we wonder “what if?”
Gordon Nation has followed him through a remarkably consistent 23 year Cup career. Only twice has he finished the season out of the Top 10 in points: 1993 (his rookie season) and 2005 where he struggled and ended up 11th. And as time went by we would often watch the No. 24 and think maybe he was beginning to slip, that he’d got all the wins, the poles, the laps led that he had in him. Look at all the stars that have come after his arrival, after all. His own protégé, Jimmie Johnson, has put him to shame some years. Kyle Busch often appears more present and hungry than the aging Rainbow Warrior.
Yet, still Gordon keeps surprising us. Just when we thought he wouldn’t pass Darrel Waltrip in the all-time wins, he did. Then he added another seven victories on top of that elusive 85. No he’s not going to match David Pearson’s 105, but I’m okay with that. I don’t know that any driver running in the 21st century will attain such heady numbers again.
However, time is running down. Gordon only has 10 more races to show us why he is the shoe-in for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I’m kind of sitting on the edge of my seat waiting and really hoping I won’t be disappointed. I haven’t been for 23 years.
Every week when I turn on the TV for this week’s installment of running in circles, I do look for the tributes offered up to Mr. Gordon, thanking him for such a wonderful ride. And every week I can’t help recalling another Victory Tour fifteen years ago.
NASCAR fandom adored Darrell Waltrip, for his lively personality and never-say-die attack to the track. For every goofy moment he created in front of the camera, there was another in the racing archives where he muscled his way to the winner’s circle 84 times. He had a great career. But he didn’t go out with such a bang. His Victory Tour, unfortunately, was more like a whimper. I don’t know if he never adjusted to the new construction of cars, the introduction of cookie-cutter tracks or simply had given every lap he had, but DW’s last hurrah lacked the dignity that Gordon and even Rusty Wallace enjoyed on his final laps. Indeed, Waltrip struggled to stay in the show for years before finally admitting defeat. It’s simply not the way we like to see a storied legend step down from the podium.
Thus, even though the Rainbow Warriors have managed to slip into the 2015 Chase, there is a certain amount of worry bothering my gut. The Axalta No. 24 has not been running as it has in the past. It’s been a struggle to get to this point. I keep hoping and wishing that one more time he’ll find that magic day and take his car back to Victory Lane. I don’t ask for the Cup, just a trophy. That would do. For if there’s one thing a champion deserves, it is one heck of a party on his last day at work.
Come on, Jeff. You can do this!
2004 Tropicana 400
While we’re on the topic of going out with a whimper or a bang, in 2004 Tony Stewart drove unabashedly aggressive. Sometimes others did not take too kindly to his approach. Yet, he is a champion. It’s been a while since Stewart has even been competitive in the Sprint Cup Series. Will he ever find his mojo again? Or have the tragedies in his life taken it all away? Only time will tell.
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