Jeff Gordon knew the 2000 Winston Cup season would be a rebuilding year
for his raceteam. Though most had envisioned instant chemistry between Gordon
and new crew chief Robbie Loomis, the process was slow. The new Chevrolet
Monte Carlo, a new generation Goodyear tire, and several new crew members
put the DuPont team behind the 8-ball to start the season. A loose oil line
fitting at Daytona resulted in a 34th place finish to start the year.
Gordon struggled with the handling of the DuPont Chevrolet at Rockingham
en route to a 10th place finish. At Las Vegas, Loomis and Gordon never
found the set-up and finished 28th in a rain-shortened event. After
a ninth place finish at Atlanta and eighth place at Darlington, the questions
began to surface. Gordon was struggling at tracks he had once dominated.
Add on to the problems was a new pit crew whose inconsistent efforts
were costing Gordon positions on pit road.
Was Robbie Loomis in over his head? Was Ray Evernham really as important as some were led to believe? Just when the doubters became more vocal, the winds shifted and the DuPont team began sailing. At Bristol, Gordon was on his way to a solid top 3 finish when he hit a tire on pit road and finished eighth. Nevertheless, he had run up front. And the pit crew began cranking out the consistent 15 second four tire changes. Three weeks after the strong run at Bristol, Gordon charged from a 36th starting spot at Talladega to claim his 50th career win. However, rebuilding is a gradual process.
In the five races following the Talladega victory, Gordon posted only one top 10 finish. The handling of the car was off at Richmond, Charlotte, Michigan, Dover, and Pocono. One of the highlights during this stretch was the announcement that DuPont had signed an extension to continue its sponsorship of Gordon thru 2006. A late June trip to Sears Point raised the team's confidence after Gordon won his sixth consecutive road course race. He would go on to post three top 10 finishes in July but the dog days of August would see a slump the likes of which Jeff Gordon had never experienced in his Winston Cup career.
An early incident at the Brickyard relegated him to a 33rd place finish. Contact with Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen and Michigan produced finishes of 23rd and 36th. At Bristol, a power steering failure sent Gordon from 2nd place back to 23rd. For the first time in his career, Gordon had gone four consecutive races without a top 20 finish. While rumors swirled about dissention and self-doubt, the adversity brought the team closer together. When it looked as if the team had hit rock bottom, they regrouped and moved forward.
The combination of Gordon, Loomis, and team manager Brian Whitesell began to see positive results for their work. A fourth place finish at Darlington during Labor Day weekend provided a springboard for the rest of the season which saw Gordon post ten top 10 finishes in the final eleven races. A win at Richmond, a second place effort at Rockingham, and poles at Charlotte and Atlanta allowed the team to finish the season with renewed confidence heading into 2001.
In "The Winner Within," Pat Riley discusses covenants- agreements that bind people together. After the off-season changes that saw key members of the championship teams depart, rebuilding was necessary. New covenants had to be forged in order to move ahead. "The core covenant must spring from the natural leaders and spread throughout the team," Riley writes. "The top producers, being the team's natural leaders, have to be the source of that covenant." It was up to Jeff Gordon to bring the team together. In previous seasons, Gordon could rely on Ray Evernham to inspire and motivate the group. In 2000, that task fell squarely on Gordon's shoulders.
"Covenants can be energized only in an atmosphere of total trust," Riley writes. Jeff Gordon and his raceteam learned to trust one another throughout the 2000 season. They're not in a rebuilding mode any longer. With the team's core covenant firmly in place, the focus now shifts to winning the Winston Cup title.
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