Archive for Thursday, May 6, 2004

Back on track?

Gordon aiming to regain former glory

May 6, 2004

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Hindsight is always 20/20, as the saying goes.

Jeff Gordon's record before his recent two consecutive Nextel Cup Series wins certainly doesn't show perfection, but it does show potential.

A late-race caution handed Gordon a win over favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega Superspeedway two weeks ago, then a strong car and good fuel mileage propelled him into a victory last weekend at California Speedway.

Before the wins, Gordon was also primed for wins at Darlington, Texas and Martinsville, only to see various outside factors take him out of contention for the victories.

At Darlington, it was a lapped-car involved in an accident that destroyed Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet, which had been among the fastest cars of the weekend.

Gordon was leading at Texas when he needed to switch batteries, forcing him to lose valuable track position and finish third.

And he was dominating Martinsville when a piece of concrete from the track surface tore a gash into his car. He had to pit for repairs and climbed back to sixth before the race ended.

So instead of two wins and 27 points out of the lead, Gordon could well have at least five victories and a commanding lead.

Could the Jeff Gordon of 1998 be returning, the one who dominated his competition with seven poles and 13 wins?

Time will tell. For now, Gordon will enjoy his current success.

After winning the last two races, Jeff Gordon is reminding people
of 1998 when he dominated NASCAR.

After winning the last two races, Jeff Gordon is reminding people of 1998 when he dominated NASCAR.

"Some days we have the best car and the best team out there, but the results don't show it," Gordon said. At Texas, "we had the best car when it counted.

"It has been an amazing four or five races that we've had. After Darlington we had a pretty tough wreck there and we just shook it off and just kept on plugging away and going strong.

"It makes me really proud to get behind the wheel of that car."

It may seem strange that just weeks ago, there were whispers in the garage of problems with Gordon's team, including the possibility that crew chief Robbie Loomis could take the fall.

As ridiculous a notion as that may seem, it remained a topic Gordon's team was required to address.

"We went through a very rough 2000 season. Since that time, we've won the championship. That gave me some confidence," Loomis said. "The biggest thing is Jeff talks to me a lot. He said no matter what we come across or how we get criticized, he believed in this race team and what we are doing.

"There are things we need to improve, but he believes in the (team) and that we can do it. When you have that kind of confidence from a guy who has won four championships, it gives you confidence to get back to the team and walk through the shop on a bad day and know that we can put our best foot forward."

Since scoring his first Cup victory in 1994, Gordon has never finished worse than ninth in points (2000 season). The fewest number of wins in that stretch was two in the '94 season.

Such statistics would be welcome news to virtually any other team in the series. But Gordon's past performance has raised the bar of expectations -- both for his fans and himself.

In 1996, 1997 and 1998, Gordon won 10, 10 and 13 races, respectively. No other team has come close to that level of performance since then, including Gordon's.

So, when Gordon goes several races without a win, or dips outside the top-10 in points, questions of his performance naturally arise.

After the 2000 season "we questioned ourselves. Once you overcome adversity, it allows you to overcome it more and more and deal with it in a better way," Gordon said.

"I'm very fortunate that the people at Hendrick Motorsports never lose sight of that. Each week, no matter what's thrown at us, we put it behind us and go to the next week.

"The criticism doesn't come from within us. It comes from outside. Everyone has a story to write."

Does that mean another dominating Gordon stretch is on the horizon?

"I don't know," he said, "but we do have momentum right now."

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