Jeff Gordon. The name is iconic to auto racing.
His wins and championships have reserved his future seat in NASCAR’s Hall of Fame. Gordon’s celebrity status has drawn millions of new fans to stock car racing in the past 20 years.
So why can’t he win a race?
Since 2007 he has only visited victory lane one time. That being an initial Texas win in 2009. But also during that time frame he has had a series of near misses.
Last year the four-time champion finished third in tour standings with eight second-place finishes. That strength has continued in 2010 with his near-miss list growing. Triumphs have slipped through Gordon’s fingers at Las Vegas, Martinsville, Phoenix, and Richmond.
Piloting the machine to beat at some point during the race, he simply hasn’t been able to close the deal. To a racer, winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing. Gordon is polished and professional. During his post race interviews after letting another trophy be carried off in someone else’s hands he comes across very poised. Experience does this. He doesn’t need to put on a phony display to “show his passion.”
The emotion comes out when he feels he was wronged. Ask Matt Kenseth or Jimmie Johnson. But if he was beat fair and square, do not look for a childish tantrum to prove a point. He doesn’t need to. The words he shares are measured and calculated. The winning desire stays within and comes home. It is fuel for the next race.
Crew chief Steve Letarte has given Gordon solid equipment during this winless stretch. A third place championship standing result and a 25% top-two finishing percentage in 2009 indicates good cars. Hendrick Motorsports has results to back up their reputation. And Letarte is always the target of fair weather fans. They demand his firing for not beating all 42 starters all the time
Most on the Cup circuit would like to trade places with Gordon’s numbers. A fair season by his standards is considered exceptional for most others donning nomex in NASCAR's biggest arenas.
“The best you can do on any given day is put yourself in position to win. Circumstances dictate the rest.” Richard Petty repeated this many times during his driving days. And Petty’s career has stood the test of time, riding out winning streaks and winless slumps. Gordon is facing a circumstantial slump.
Hendrick is putting competitive machinery together for Gordon every week. He is in position to win. Circumstances are taking them away.
Late race cautions cause several hundred laps of work to be tossed in the air and a few miles worth of racing decide racing fates. Leaders get lost and hidden drivers are found. Repeated results show Gordon simply hasn’t found his ‘yellow brick road.’
Hindsight being 20/20 it is easy to say what should have been done to win more races. But I seriously doubt anyone could have made the decisions Letarte has done to constantly construct fast racecars and come so close to victory on race day over and over.
Character is built during times of adversity. Being Jeff Gordon or Steve Letarte and not winning is adverse. Keep watching. The wins will come. And once they start we all might have to get used to them.
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