One of NASCAR’s most dominant figures through the years has hit a rut in the Chase for the Sprint Cup era. Jeff Gordon’s drive for a fifth championship has had to wait, marred by his teammate Jimmie Johnson’s epic five-straight championships and emergence into NASCAR lore.
Now, the veteran Gordon finds himself in a strange role; possibly removed from the championship hunt, and certainly removed as the role of star at the team he helped make legendary Hendrick Motorsports.
So as the 2013 season trudges on, Jeff Gordon has gone from seeing Tony Stewart-level struggles to be right back in the hunt for the final Chase spot. Despite a slight comeback during the spring stretch, including third place finishes at Martinsville and Darlington, Gordon finds himself on the outside looking in after a wreck during the Coca-Cola 600, a race where survival is everything.
How exactly does Gordon fare looking at the standings? Well, Gordon is only 15 points behind reigning champion Brad Keselowski, after the champion fell three points during a disastrous 600. Between 15th place and 10th you can find drivers such as Jamie McMurray and Aric Almirola whose teams lack Chase experience. Also beneficial for Gordon is the fact that both eighth- and ninth-place drivers Paul Menard and Martin Truex Jr. gained a combined eight positions in the championship standings.
In my opinion, this stretch of races in between Charlotte and Daytona is make or break for many drivers on the outside looking in. Gordon is not exempt. The standings are still close, not yet spread out, and the races are fairly pedestrian, with complete teams able to shine, and surprises not in store.
As we look forward to Dover, recall that Gordon has three DNF’s this year, uncharacteristic of the veteran. But luckily for Gordon, he has not had a DNF at The Monster Mile since 2005. After that, Gordon returns to Pocono, where he has tamed the tricky triangle, winning two of the last four races there.
Frankly, it is hard not to believe Jeff Gordon is in The Chase already. His Hendrick teammates are all comfortably in the top 10, and Gordon has shown flashes of excellence this year. Overall, this team is too good not to at least be contending at Richmond like they were last year. If Gordon continues his run, able to forget about his Coke 600 woes, he will not just be contending, but winning throughout the summer, and when it matters the most, during The Chase.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486