We all knew that Jimmie Johnson would be a contender in 2009, but had no idea which Jeff Gordon was going to show up in Daytona.
Seven races into the season, we have our answer and the field isn't happy about it.
Jeff Gordon has been nothing but revitalized form the drop of the green flag for the Daytona 500 in February. The constant praising of his entire team, the guys back at the shop, his teammates you name it. Gordon is back on the top of his game after what many NASCAR fans consider an off year for the #24 team.
In 2008, Gordon managed to compile his first winless season since his days as a rookie where he showed up smiling through that mustache, and thank you Jeff for leaving that behind in the early '90s, just happy as can be to be able to race every weekend.
Last season was more of a wake-up call than 2007 was because he was a winner in 2007, and last season proved that just because your name is Jeff Gordon, nothing in this sport is going to be handed to you on any type of platter.
Busch dominated the regular season, Johnson dominated the chase (again) and drove away with little competition for the title. However, Gordon is determined to throw a wrench, ignore the pun, into the plans of Johnson's mark on NASCAR history and his attempt for a 4-peat.
We all remember the 2007 chase. Gordon had dominated the regular season and compiled well over a 300 point lead after the fall race in Richmond over teammate Jimmie Johnson only to have it wiped away by midnight to 5 points. The No. 24 and No. 48 teams were by far the class of the chase and dueled in one of the closest championship battles NASCAR has seen down the stretch in years.
Now I know you're screaming at your computers "MARK WHAT ABOUT 2004?????" I fully remmeber 2004, but I don't see that as competitive as 2007 because Johnson went on a tear winning four races in a row just to have a chance in Homestead. Johnson and Gordon exchanged the point lead several times, but yet again Johnson was just that much better and took the title over his elder teammate.
It is early in 2009, but after Texas I'm more than convinced that Gordon and Johnson will be battling all the way down to the wire. Gordon was fast early, lost the handle during the middle of the race and Letarte yet again calmed him down with "don't worry about it man, you're the best out there just hang onto it and we'll fix it for ya" and fix it they did.
Johnson was junk for the first 250 laps of that race and crew chief Chad Knaus decided it was time to wave that magic wand over the car and all of a sudden Johnson shot out of a rocket and as the race was winding down.
Johnson was in hot pursuit of Gordon, but this time fell a little bit short. Gordon usually never ceases to be amazed by what the No. 48 team has done over the past few years but even he was impressed during this conversation w/Letarte right after he took the checkered flag.
Letarte: "Great job man! That guy behind you certainly doesn't make things easy for us does he?
Gordon" YEA WHERE DID HE COME FROM?!?!?!?"
It was no doubt another magical drive by the No. 48 team, but nothing overshadowed Gordon on that day. He broke his winless streak which spanned more than a full season, and finally achieved victory at Texas, a placed that constantly bit him early in his career and has produced two of his three 43rd place finishes in his career.
Last on his list is Homestead, the season finale, and I can't see a better ending for the No. 24 team and enduring a long battle throughout the chase w/Johnson only to get to Homestead, win the race, and finally complete his drive for five.