In 2010, Jeff Gordon was unarguably one of the fastest drivers on a consistent basis. Nevertheless, he had a big, fat calorie-filled doughnut in the win column. The reason for the winless campaign was simply the fact that he could not close the deal.
When Gordon dominated the NASCAR world in the mid and late 1990’s, even some in the early 2000’s, he was the perfect closer. He rarely lost the races he should have won. That characteristic is now owned by Jimmie Johnson. Gordon has recently had difficulty winning the races he should win. The 2010 races at Las Vegas, Phoenix, Martinsville, Richmond, and Chicagoland immediately come to mind as races Gordon led late in the going only to fall short.
He dominated the race at Las Vegas, but it was Johnson and the No. 48 crew who outfoxed Gordon and the No. 24 team with pit strategy. At Phoenix, Ryan Newman outmuscled Gordon on a late restart. At Martinsville, Gordon banged fenders with Matt Kenseth, paving the way for Denny Hamlin’s comeback win. At Richmond, Kyle Busch beat Gordon on a late restart. At Chicagoland, David Reutimann chased down Gordon late in the event.
The Gordon of the 1990’s would have won at least four of the five mentioned races.
Gordon and the new look No. 24 team appear to have reclaimed the swagger of the Rainbow Warriors. For you newbie fans, that was Gordon and his rainbow colored car, and his crew with the rainbow colored suits. It was the pre-flame Gordon. Gordon had the field covered at Phoenix last Sunday, I believe that was evident. However, once again, he lost the lead late in the race after a round of green flag pit stops.
He was able to quickly bypass Tony Stewart, and then chase down one of the most difficult drivers to pass in Kyle Busch to claim the victory, snapping a 66-race winless skid. Not only did he pass Busch, but he muscled the young driver out of his way. It was an impressive victory indeed.
Many fans and analysts alike are insinuating that Gordon is back to his championship winning form. While he is clearly displaying the signs of a return to glory, similar to Dale Earnhardt in 1999 and 2000, it will take more than a single victory to convince me, as well as many others in the racing world including Gordon himself.
I have no doubts that Gordon can resurface as the dominant force he was years ago, but I felt as if he was on the brink in 2009 after his win at Texas. If you recall, Gordon was coming off a winless season in 2008, and was one of the hottest drivers in early 2009. His win at Texas appeared to be the first of many to come. As we are all aware, he did not win another race until February of 2011, nearly two years later.
The only difference now is that Gordon has a new crew chief on top of the pit box, Alan Gustafson, as well as a new inventory of cars.