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Editorials


'Cold Shoulder'
Fall 2010


The pundits have made their predictions on the 2010 NASCAR Chase for the Championship. The easy selection is four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson. Some have opted for a "hot driver" such as Denny Hamlin or Kyle Busch. Others have gone with experience and selected Tony Stewart. You'd have to look long and hard to find anybody who selected Jeff Gordon as their 2010 NASCAR champion. It seems that this season -- moreso than any other Chase year -- the expectations for Gordon have declined to the point where he's just another name on the racetrack.

Why Jeff Gordon will be the 2010 NASCAR champion
Chances are, if you think Jeff Gordon will win the NASCAR title this year, you've got a Jeff Gordon piece of memorabilia in your house. However, despite the general pessimistic feeling in the media, Gordon has been one of the most consistent drivers during the 2010 "regular season." Only Kevin Harvick posted more top-5 finishes than Gordon in the first 26 races. Gordon was strong at Martinsville and was approximately 200 feet from winning before a caution flag essentially ruined his day. He nearly scored a victory at Phoenix after running strong all night. Nobody was stronger than Gordon at Las Vegas and Texas. It's within the realm of possibility that Gordon could win 4 races and the Chase title based on the team's strength earlier this season. And, despite the pundits predictions, it's within the realm of possibility that Gordon can catch "blue and yellow lightning in a bottle" and come away with his first Sprint Cup title.

Why Jeff Gordon won't be the 2010 NASCAR champion
Gordon's team has been off their game over the past month. Lackluster qualifying efforts have often made him a non-factor on raceday. Gordon is in the midst of a career-long winless drought. He's won 1 race in the last 35 months. He hasn't qualified above 16th in the last five races. He hasn't posted a top-5 finish in the last 7 races. He's spotting Denny Hamlin 60 points to start the Chase. He's spotting Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson 50 points. To win the Chase, Gordon will likely need to win a race -- make that multiple races. Can Gordon rebound if by chance he doesn't post a top-10 at Loudon? Of course. But external criticism will only grow louder if his points deficit balloons to triple digits. "I'm not saying that we are not still championship-caliber for these final ten," Gordon said after Richmond, "but I do feel like we don't have the capabilities that we have had at this point like last year." The capabilities Gordon referred to was team confidence. He needs to have confidence in his race team, and they need to have confidence in him. Based on how things have gone in the late summer weeks, the confidence that existed early in the season has seemingly evaporated.

Conclusions...
Jeff Gordon has four NASCAR championships. Without the Chase system, he might have as many as six NASCAR championships. This year he's in a relatively unfamiliar position. There are no media expectations for a championship run. The headlines have read: "Too inconsistent," "Peaked too early," "Not hungry enough," "Can't compete with Jimmie," and on, and on, and on. The fact of the matter is that Gordon IS a championship contender. He's not the favorite; not even close. But he's shown glimpses of being championship-caliber this season. Sure, it's a concern that he hasn't been in the hunt for a victory since early August. Remember, it's not the wreck at Talladega that essentially eliminates a driver from Chase contention. Rather, it's the ho-hum 10th-15th place finishes at Loudon and Dover where Jimmie or Denny end up in victory lane that create a points hemorrhage. Does Jeff Gordon need a victory at Loudon to establish a firm foothold in the Chase for the Championship? Of course not. But it surely wouldn't hurt.



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