Back To The Future

Jeff Gordon has started the 2011 season in similar fashion to the way he began 1995. By and large, Gordon has not run poorly on the racetrack having led at least one lap in all three races. In addition, he scored a breakthrough victory at Phoenix Raceway. But he sits just 19th in the points standings due to wrecks at Daytona International Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. For the longtime fans, the start of the season might be reminiscent of his first title year.

Gordon finished 8th in the series standings in 1994 and was not the prohibitive favorite for the championship when the 1995 season began. The favorite was the driver who had captured the Winston Cup in four out of the last five years. Dale Earnhardt was on top of the NASCAR mountain as he set his sights on an unprecedented eighth title. Gordon looked to have the dominant car in the Daytona 500, but a pit road miscue at the halfway point doomed his victory hopes. The following week he dominated the race at Rockingham. A fuel pump problem at Richmond resulted in another poor finish, despite a pole-winning effort in qualifying. In the season's fourth race, Gordon made a loud statement about the strength of his raceteam. He led 250 of the 328 laps en route to his second win of the season and fourth of his career. Most impressive is that Gordon led 250 of the final 257 laps of the event.

Gordon's finishes in the first three events of 2011 nearly mirror the 1995 start. He posted finishes of 26th at Daytona, 1st at Phoenix, and 36th at Las Vegas to begin this year. Sixteen years ago, he began the season with 22nd, 1st, and 36th place finishes. Despite the historical comparison, there are some areas of concern going forward. In his last 10 races dating back to last season, Gordon has just one finish higher than 8th (the win at Phoenix). He hasn't posted back-to-back top-5 finishes since last July (Daytona, Chicagoland). In addition, Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson clearly struggled with handling throughout the race at Las Vegas. Following Bristol, the series heads to the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Gustafson led Mark Martin to finishes of 4th and 6th at Fontana in 2010. As such, expectations are high for Gordon and The Drive To End Hunger team at the Fontana oval.

Similar to 1995, Gordon was not the favorite for the series title before this season began. Buoyed by the victory at Phoenix, some have put Gordon on the short list to possibly unseat Jimmie Johnson at the top of sport -- but there are others. Carl Edwards victory at Las Vegas (and his strong finish to 2010) puts the Roush Fenway driver into the title equation. Denny Hamlin led the standings into the final race of 2010. Kevin Harvick scored the most total points in 2010. However, there's one key difference between Gordon and his current peers on that short list of title contenders. Namely that Gordon has been in this position before. The young upstart in the rainbow-colored car took down the dominant force of the early 90's in NASCAR. And, now, 16 years later it is the grizzled veteran on the cusp of his 40th birthday who is looking to take down another dominant force in NASCAR.

March 12, 1995

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