2012 Brickyard 400: Gordon Must Win in Indy to Salvage Lagging Chase Hopes

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJuly 29, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JULY 28:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 28, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

It's been a disappointing 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season for four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, and unless the 40-year-old driver can produce a victory in Sunday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the "Rainbow Warrior" will probably be on the outside looking in when the Chase for the Championship begins in several weeks.

Pulling out a win at the Brickyard isn't going to be easy for the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, as Gordon has yet to find his way into victory lane this season, with his best finish being a fourth-place showing at the Samsung Mobile 500 in Texas in April.

That's just not going to cut it this weekend. As Lars Anderson of Sports Illustrated reports, Gordon needs two victories in the final seven races of the season to have a legitimate shot at making the Chase, and even then it would all but certainly be as one of the two wild cards.

If there's a silver lining to all this doom and gloom, it's that Gordon has enjoyed a great deal of success in Indianapolis, winning the Brickyard 400 four times and placing in the top six in 12 of his 18 races there, including a runner-up finish to Paul Menard in 2011.

With only one victory in his past 96 starts, Gordon is in by far the worst slump of his storied NASCAR career. This slump is undoubtedly frustrating for Gordon, but as he recently explained to The Indianapolis Star, it doesn't do much good to rant and rave about it in his opinion.

"When it comes to how to handle it publicly, I just don't think it does the team or myself or anybody any good to handle that negatively," he said. "And so whatever frustrations and challenges that we've been dealt this year, we've just continued to try to handle it internally. I would say that there has been very little questioning of anyone."

If Gordon's struggles continue Sunday in Indy, though, those questions may begin to grow in number, and unfortunately for Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports there is ample reason to believe that they will.

The biggest reason for that may well be Gordon's teammate with Hendricks. Not only has Jimmie Johnson won won five of the past six Sprint Cup championships, but he's also won twice this year and has been hot of late, placing in the top six in seven of his past nine starts.

Johnson will be far from the only driver in Gordon's way on Sunday, as any number of competitors who are enjoying much better seasons than Gordon are considered serious contenders in the race, including points leader Matt Kenseth, hometown hero Tony Stewart and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The week off before the Brickyard 400 has historically favored the elite teams with the fastest cars, and while Gordon may once have counted himself among that group, given his performance to this point this year it's difficult to say that about him now.

That isn't to say that Gordon can't pull the proverbial rabbit out of his hat and come up with a win at the Brickyard 400 given his experience and success in Indianapolis.

He'd better, or any chance he has of making the Chase for the Championship will all but surely have gone up in smoke.