Jeff Gordon's 2004 season could be considered a championship season. After all, he did accumulate the most points
in the 36-race season. But, in 2004, the "Chase For The Cup" put a premium on the final ten races of the season.
Kurt Busch combined a victory at Loudon with consistent finishes to capture the championship. Gordon came up 16 points
short in the final "chase" total.
Gordon began the season in an unfamiliar position-- having to take a provisional to make the field for the Daytona 500. He ran in the lead draft for most of the day before Dale Earnhardt Jr pulled away from the pack to take the victory. The first few races saw Gordon battle handling problems, though he did post three top-10 finishes in the first four events. At Darlington he was running in the top-10 when a lapped car spun in front of him. With no place to go, Gordon drilled the prone car in turn two and finished 41st. He rebounded with three straight top-10 finishes before holding off Earnhardt Jr in a thrilling late race battle for the victory at Talladega. Gordon followed that up with a victory the following week at California Speedway. However, the team missed the setup at Charlotte, cut a tire at Dover, and blew an engine at Michigan as the summer season began. In typical fashion, Gordon responded with six consecutive top-five finishes. Interspersed were victories on the road course in Sonoma, a win under the lights at Daytona, and a dominating performance in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. Gordon held the points lead after the 26th race when the standings were reset. In the final ten races, Gordon struggled at Talladega, Kansas, and Atlanta. He was unable to overcome those performances to capture his fifth title. Though, considering the events of October 24, just being on the track at Atlanta was an accomplishment.
On October 24, a Hendrick Motorsports-owned airplane crashed on its way to the track in Martinsville, Virginia. All ten people on board were killed, including HMS engine builder Randy Dorton, HMS President John Hendrick, HMS Vice President Jeff Turner, and 24-year-old Ricky Hendrick. The loss was simply immeasurable. Some called it the worst tragedy in the history of motorsports. When Jimmie Johnson pulled into victory lane at Atlanta-- just one week after the tragedy-- the entire HMS family celebrated with him in victory lane. On the surface, the victory was meaningless. It didn't undo what occurred, and it didn't make the hurt go away. But for one late October afternoon, it was time to race on. Not because they wanted to, but because they had to. The Hendrick teams didn't come away with a championship in the NASCAR race in 2004, but they were the ultimate champions in the human race. In the end, that's what matters most.
|Golden Corral 500||4||10||5|
|Food City 500||2||9||12|
|Auto Club 500||16||1||3|
|Save Mart 350||1||1||4|
|Sirius at the Glen||2||21||2|
|Pop Secret 500||8||37||2|
|EA Sports 500||5||19||3|
|Bass Pro 500||10||34||3|
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