Published September 15, 2010
Jeff Gordon won four Sprint Cup championships over a seven-year period from 1995 (his first) to 2001 (his last), a time when he was so dominant that there emerged talk about him eventually tying the seven-championship record co-owned by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr.
It’s been almost a decade since that fourth title, however, and Gordon remains at that number. The driver now given the best shot at reaching Petty-Earnhardt levels is Jimmie Johnson, Gordon’s teammate.
But Gordon, who’ll turn 40 next year, figures to be a force in this year’s Chase, even though he enters the 10-race championship run seeded eighth, the result of a winless season.
“You never know when the next one is going to come,” Gordon said Wednesday. “I’ve always respected that. When they changed the points format [in 2004], I knew it didn’t suit me the best and that it was going to be very challenging to get there. I don’t know if I knew how challenging it was going to be, and it’s been very challenging. But it’s also been a great motivator for me and also for our team to get it done.
“I really admire Tony [Stewart, champion in 2002 and 2005] for being able to win it in both formats. That’s something I’d love to do.”
Gordon will roll into the Chase riding something of a slump. After 10 mid-season races in which he scored eight top-six finishes, his last five races have produced runs of 10th or worse. Part of the recent decline, however, said Gordon, is the result of experimentation for the Chase.
“We’ve been trying some new things to get ready,” he said. “In order to do that, you’ve got to try some things that don’t always work. We should have finished better in a lot of those races.
“I think our performance – while it’s not as good as it was earlier in the season, I think it can be stepped up as we go to a lot of these tracks for the second time. I just think we’re well-prepared and ready. Only time will tell.”
The in-race “testing” produced some results, Gordon said, but not enough to reach solid conclusions.
“It always about trial and error,” he said. “You don’t know what will work until you find out what doesn’t work. We’ve tested and tried some things that showed some promise, but we haven’t gotten enough results on it to say that’s the way we need to go.”
Part of the challenge of the Chase, Gordon said, is its unpredictability.
“It doesn’t matter that Denny Hamlin dominated and won that race last week [at Richmond], or that I finished 12th,” he said. “You can’t predict it. You get in the Chase, and guys that maybe didn’t have momentum go out and win the first two races like [Greg] Biffle did [in 2008]. Or a guy who’s running strong like Kyle [Busch] just falls to pieces in the first few races.
“It’s unpredictable. It still does take consistency, and that’s what we’re best at.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.