Good Heavens, you would think by the way people are acting, Jeff Gordon had raced his way back from NASCAR hell with his win in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix. The media is writing it up like the old Jeff Gordon is back, but come on! Did he really go anywhere? I think what we have here is a lesson in perceptions: on the part of the drivers, the fans, and the media.
Before we start writing this up as the greatest comeback since Lazarus, let’s remember this: Jeff Gordon was going through a victory drought, not a slump. Yes, it’s true he went oh-for-2008, got a single win for his troubles in 2009 at Texas, and he got collared in 2010. Yet, at the same time, in 108 races, the Wonder Boy racked up 40 top fives, 61 top 10s, and seven poles. I’ll bet ol’ Dale Jr. wouldn’t mind a slump like that. Gordon has finished seventh, third and ninth in the season’s final standings in each of the last three years. A slump? Yeeeaahhh…..
What it comes down to is this: the lesson here is that when it comes to the drivers and the fans, racing is still about winning. Did you catch what Gordon said post-race? He’s generally been one miserable man finishing second far too many times than he cares to remember. He may have made the Chase in 2010, but I can assure you he probably would have taken Jamie McMurray’s three wins and missing the Chase.
I hear one too many fans complain that drivers don’t value winning enough. Gordon’s win is Exhibit “A” to the contrary. Show me a driver who says “We had a good points day,” and I’ll show a driver who has been winning races, is in position for a championship, and under those circumstances can live with it. Otherwise, that driver is as miserable as Big Daddy has been as of late. The truth is that drivers still crave wins, fans want drivers who hunger to win, and nobody really wants a winless champion. The powers that be at NASCAR had better pray someone steps up in the Nationwide Series to keep that from happening, or it will make a mockery of the new rules.
Now, back to Gordon. While he’s managed consistency these past few years, the win Sunday signifies the 24 team is hitting its stride in a big way. Wins have a way of coming in bunches, and Gordon is among that rare class of competitors who is a serious candidate to win no matter where he goes.
A little perspective is in order here. This is no comeback, but a ramping up for the man tied for fifth on the all-time victory list. One more win puts Jeff Gordon on even par with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison at 84 Cup victories. Two more wins, and the one-time kid from California trails only a couple of guys named Petty (200) and Pearson (105).
If I’m Jimmie Johnson, if I’m Kyle Busch, if I’m Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart or Denny Hamlin, I am concerned. Gunning for the top? Heck, he’s been there. It looks like what’s happened here is the “Drive For Five” has hit a higher gear.