Can Points Leader Jeff Gordon Clear a Texas-Size Hurdle at TMS?

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst IMarch 31, 2009

HAMPTON, GA - MARCH 08:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont/National Guard Youth Challenge Chevrolet, stands on pit road prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 8, 2009 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

For fans and fantasy racing owners who follow every NASCAR Sprint Cup race, Jeff Gordon often gets the nod to contend for the race win on a weekly basis.

With four Cup titles, 81 career victories, 251 top-five finishes, and 341 top-ten results over his 18 years in the series, the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet has been a force at nearly all the tracks on the circuit, winning at 20 of the 22 circuits that currently comprise the championship season.

However, Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports team return to a house of horror in the form of Texas Motor Speedway, a track that teases the No. 24 while running among the leaders or hand the team a race-long struggle with an ill-handling beast with little window for adjustment opportunities.

Winless in 16 previous starts at Texas, the numbers for "Four-Time" are middling for Gordon. First, the postiives:

He has two runner-up finishes in 2002 and 2008, a third in 2003 and 2004, and fourth-place result in 2007, a fifth in 2001, seventh in the November '07 race, and a ninth-place spot in the fall 2006 event.

Then there are the troubling statistics which show the stranglehold that Texas Motor Speedway has with three crash DNF results in '98, '99, and April '08.

Gordon also had a hiccup in the inaugural 500-miler at the Fort Worth, Texas facility, when he was involved in the Ernie Irvan-Greg Sacks crash in the dog-leg that dropped him to a 30th place finish.

Things may be different in 2009 for Driver 24, as he heads into this Sunday's Samsung 500 atop the points standings with an 89-point advantage over Kurt Busch.

With the exception of his "disappointing" finish of 13th at Daytona, the DuPont driver has finished in the top-ten in every other race with his lowest finish being sixth at Las Vegas in a wounded Chevy.

Before, Gordon was a phenom who won once in every 1.8 race in a season, when the No. 24 team had their double-digit winning ways from '96-'98. No longer the young gun ace, the Vallejo, California driver has matured into a driver who strives on consistency and strategy.

That's not to say that Gordon does not go for the win as he would in the past.

When he went through his winless 2008 campaign, some of that desire for the win would cost the DuPont team a shot at victory lane like in the case of last year's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.

If Gordon and crew chief Steve Letarte can find a balance between a car that can stay neutral or adjustable throughout the race weekend, this Sunday's race may look like a fitting opportunity to not only put an end to J-Go's 46-race winless streak.

It would be the ultimate exorcision of the demon in the form of Texas Motor Speedway.