COMMENTARY: He has raced with some of the greatest drivers in stock car history. He has been nose to nose with The Intimidator. He helped make Jimmie Johnson a household name. He has four Championships in his 20 year Cup career. Since 1993, Jeff Gordon has been behind the wheel of the No.24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet; winning races and competing for Championships. This season however, something seems different.
With 87 wins in 705 Cup starts spanning over 20 years, Jeff Gordon is one of the best the sport has ever had, but the last two seasons have not been the greatest for Gordon fans, or Gordon himself. Last season, Gordon squeezed himself a spot into the Chase at the last possible moment, edging out Kyle Busch for the last Wild Card spot. In 2012, Gordon had just two wins, one of them being the rain-shortened Pocono race.
Gordon’s other victory was overshadowed by the Championship Celebration with Brad Keselowski at Homestead-Miami to close out the 2012 season. That win was a good way to put a cap on what could easily be called one of Gordon’s worst seasons, ever. With five DNFs and multiple wrecks, it seemed like everything that could possibly happen to a driver on the track happened to Gordon.
With 12 finishes off of the lead lap, it was very unlike Gordon and his team to be struggling in the standings throughout the 2012 season; some also believed that Gordon would miss the Chase for the first time in his career. Until race 26 at Richmond, Gordon hadn’t cracked the top-10 in points, sitting as low as 25th in the standings.
Multiple malfunctions seemed to plague the No.24 team. Blown tires, expired engines and various other mechanical issues sent the team to the pits or the garage at races like Daytona, Darlington and Chicago. Even in Martinsville, where he led over half of the race, a late race crash sent him to a 14th place finish.
While most of Gordon’s issues in 2012 were out of his control, could something else be happening with one of the sports favorite drivers? Could Gordon be running out of steam and nearing the end of his career? In the 16 races so far in 2013, Gordon has four DNFs and currently sits 13th in points. While his points standing is significantly better than it was at this time last season, Gordon still seems to be struggling more than usual.
Hendrick Motorsports owner and founder Rick Hendrick announced this season that he has his eyes on Chase Elliott. In fact, he signed him to a multi-year deal that includes a full-time Nationwide Series run by next season. With a season or two in NASCARs second tier, Elliott will be ready to move to the Cup Series, but where would he go? With Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. filling the other three seats in Hendrick’s fleet, one driver will have to leave or retire for Elliott to move to the Cup Series.
Unfortunately, the seat that is more than likely to be vacated will be the No.24 currently being driven by Gordon. 2016, which is an estimate as to when Elliott could have a full time Sprint Cup Series ride, would give Gordon two more full seasons with the organization that made him the great driver that he is.
Jeff Gordon is one of the most popular drivers in the series and the thought of him not being in the field every weekend is something that most people don’t want to think about. Jeff Gordon made his first Cup start in 1992 with his first full season starting in 1993. With over 20 seasons behind the wheel, Gordon has definitely become a household name among racing families. Unfortunately, I think his time as a full-time driver is growing shorter.
Gordon isn’t quite as competitive as he used to be. He still goes out every weekend and races hard but the level of competition is completely different than it was during his Championship days. With two young children now in his life, Gordon’s mindset isn’t 100% on racing like it used to be. Jeff Gordon will always be one of the greatest drivers to ever hit the track, but his time in the No.24 may just be coming to a close sooner than anybody, especially his fans, wants to see.
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It was no checkers and only wreckers for the four Hendrick Motorsports cars this weekend at Michigan. This was the first time since 2005 that Mr. Hendrick had his entire fleet finish outside of the top-25 once the Checkered Flag flew.
Hendrick's bad luck started early when Jeff Gordon was caught up in the spinning No.51, driven by Bobby Labonte. Labonte lost control of his car and Gordon zigged when he should have zagged. Gordon's incident happened on lap-6 and left him multiple laps down after extensive repairs to the No.24. Gordon finished the day 39th which dropped him five spots to 16th in points.
The next Hendrick driver to have the bad luck fall on them was the No.5 of Kasey Kahne. Kahne was leading the field when his car broke free and slammed into the outside wall in Turn 2. A fire immediately ignited inside the car and thankfully Kahne was able to get out uninjured.
"I would say it was a tire that went down, but I don't know for sure," said Kahne, who finished 38th and dropped four points positions. "I just was going into the corner and then it’ ‘boom’ and turned right went straight into the wall."
After two of their cars dropped out of contention at Michigan, it was looking promising for Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jimmie Johnson; Jr even made it a point to lead a few laps in the race, showing fans that he still has it. But it was while he was out front that things went sour for Dale Jr.
Less than 30 laps after Kahne hit the wall, Earnhardt had taken the lead and looked like a contender for the win. He led 23 consecutive laps before his engine dropped a cylinder. A few laps later, Earnhardt was smoking and heading to the garage. His 37th place finish would drop him three sports to seventh in points.
And then there was one. Jimmie Johnson had never won at Michigan but Sunday looked like it might have been his time. Johnson had led multiple laps during the course of the 200 laps and was chasing down eventual race winner Greg Biffle for the lead with just a few laps to go. With just 5 laps to go, Johnson's car takes a hard right turn and slaps the outside wall. Johnson limps around to pit road with an apparent flat tire; his possible race-winning car now sitting 28th at the checkers.
Johnson's disappointing finish was the worst he has had this season and he now sits just 31 points ahead of Carl Edwards in points.
After a bazaar and eventful day for Hendrick Motorsports, the organization has four cars to repair and its worst showing as an organization since 2005. On to Sonoma, all four teams are hoping to forget Michigan and are looking forward to turning right.
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In 2011, all eyes were on Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart. They were both vying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title and heading into the Homestead-Miami finale; it was still anyone's game. At the end of the race, the points were tied, and Stewart walked away with the Championship thanks to his multiple wins.
After losing the title to a tie-breaker, Cousin Carl seemed to lose his momentum in 2012. Last season, he recorded no wins and didn't even qualify for the Chase. At the end of 2012, Edwards was sitting 15th in points with no wins and only three top-10s.
After 14 races in 2013, Edwards has recorded one win, almost doubled his top-5 finishes, and has finished every race on the schedule. Edwards is currently ranked second in points standings, 51 points behind Jimmie Johnson and with an average finish of 10.5 this season, he shows no signs of slowing down.
Looking through various racing sites such as NASCAR.com, ESPN.com, and SportsIllistrated.com, there are articles galore that say Johnson is well on his way to his sixth Championship or that Matt Kenseth is the hottest driver on the track. What the media and fellow teams are failing to see, it that Carl Edwards is right there, in the middle of it all.
As the series makes its way into the summer months, Edwards is heating up at well. In the last five races, he has recorded three top-10s and one pole. He has also held his position as second in points; 18 points ahead of third place Clint Bowyer.
While eyes are watching Johnson, Kenseth, Harvick and Stewart, Edwards is riding high is second place, just waiting for his turn to sneak up on his unsuspecting competitors and claim another victory, or two. Don't be surprised to see him in the running for the Championship towards the end of the season. After a disastrous 2012, he is bound and determined to reclaim his rightful spot on top, and this time, walk away with the trophy. Heads up everyone, Cousin Carl is coming, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
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Dover did what Dover does best; it put on one heck of a show on Sunday. Out of the 43 drivers who competed in Sunday's race, there were a few that really stood out.
Juan Pablo Montoya: Montoya ran one of the smartest races of his career on Sunday and came up just short of a victory. Montoya has never won on an oval track and has come so close this season to erasing that fact. He was running towards the top of the pack throughout a majority of the race and thanks to pit strategy, found himself in the lead at the end. If it wasn't for Stewart coming out of nowhere at the end, Montoya would have been in Victory Lane at the Monster Mile. The season isn't even halfway over so I wouldn't count Montoya out of an oval win this season quite yet.
Tony Stewart: Think back to pre-race and RaceDay when the anchors said Stewart was not going to make the Chase, well, he just increased his chances with a win on Sunday. His win also moved him into to top-20 in points. The hot summer months are when Stewart is at his best and that definitely showed Sunday. The only three laps he led were the three that counted at the end. Don't overlook Stewart, He is just heating up and Stewart-Haas Racing is improving each and every weekend.
Jimmie Johnson: If it wasn't for the questionable restart that NASCAR called him on, Johnson would have had himself another Monster. Johnson came from his worst starting spot at Dover ever and on the verge of going a lap down to leading the race and basically having it in the bag at the final caution. His black flag penalty left him deep in the teens and out of contention but his performance Sunday showed that no matter where he starts in the field, you can never count out Mr. 5-Time.
Jeff Gordon: For a guy who has had pretty rotten luck this last season and a half, he was definitely in contention for the win towards the latter stages of the race. He went on to finish third but had the race gone on a few more laps, he may have just won the entire thing. Watch out for Gordon, when he and his team are on fire, there is no slowing them down.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr: This Rookie is getting better and better each week. He finished 13th on Sunday and if he keeps up with his improvements throughout the season, I wouldn't be too shocked to see him in Victory Lane before season ends. This young gun knows how to win for sure; we saw that in the Nationwide Series. With Roush-Fenway Racing behind him, he is in some of the best equipment with one of the best pit crews in the field. He will win, it's just a matter of when.
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