Jeff Gordon Shows He'll Give Jimmie Johnson Fits in NASCAR Sprint Cup Title Race

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2014

Will Jeff Gordon punch his way past Jimmie Johnson to win this year's Sprint Cup championship?
Will Jeff Gordon punch his way past Jimmie Johnson to win this year's Sprint Cup championship?Associated Press

Like a pit bull with his fangs sunk deep into someone's skin and unwilling to release anytime soon, Jeff Gordon isn't about to let go of his bid to win a fifth Sprint Cup championship this season.

Re-energized, reinvigorated and driving like he was at 23 than the actual age of 43 that he turns on Monday, Gordon is making it very clear that the ultimate winner of this year's Sprint Cup championship is going to have to go through him.

And that especially means Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is bidding to make history by achieving a feat that many said would never be done, namely, winning a seventh Sprint Cup championship (all in the last nine seasons, for the record, by the way).

If successful this season, Johnson would tie NASCAR's all-time record of most individual championships—seven each by NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.

Gordon, meanwhile, is engaged in what has become known as his "drive for five," seeking his fifth career Cup title and the first since 2001. We saw a preview of what might happen if Gordon wins a fifth title last week, when he broke a tie with Johnson and earned a record fifth win in the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis.

Gordon has led the Sprint Cup points standings for most of the first 21 weeks. If he gets one more win—which would be his third of 2014—before the Chase starts (and Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. don't win another race in that same time period), Gordon would become the No. 1 seed once the Chase begins.

Gordon has spent most of the last nine seasons watching Johnson continue to pay off on the investment Gordon has in him as co-owner of the No. 48 team along with HMS team owner Rick Hendrick.

While Gordon has received the dividends of Johnson's success in his six championship seasons, it would not be a stretch to think that Gordon began to ask himself, "Why always Jimmie? Why not me?"

In his prime, when he won four titles in seven seasons, Gordon was the best of the best. He took on all challengers and proved to be one of the most fierce competitors on the circuit.

About the only individual who was as tough as Gordon was the late Earnhardt. They developed a rivalry between themselves that became one of the most storied in NASCAR history.

But when Johnson came along and started winning championships, it put Gordon in an awkward position. While he wanted his own wins and championships, he also had a vested interest in Johnson's success, essentially relegating Gordon's own title hopes to second-class wants and needs.

Johnson became so good that not only was he seemingly unstoppable, media and fans began referring to him after he won his sixth championship last season as "G.O.A.T.," otherwise known as Greatest of All Time.

And if there's one way to get to a driver like Gordon, it's to infer that he was a great driver in his time, but not the greatest.

That would be like saying Joe Frazier or Mike Tyson was the greatest of all time in boxing, not the self-proclaimed greatest, Muhammad Ali.

While he'll likely never admit it, maybe Gordon got tired of Johnson getting the spotlight so often, while Gordon was relegated to also-ran status.

Whatever the case, it is both heartening and refreshing to see the Gordon of old having morphed into the Gordon of today.

While guys like Earnhardt, Johnson and Keselowski have gained the lion's share of media and fan attention, Gordon has gone about his business quietly and effectively, essentially flown under the radar for most of this season.

In fact, how many casual NASCAR fans would guess that he's been ranked No. 1 for most of the season?

I'm willing to bet the answer to that is not many.

Johnson has spent the last six championship runs seemingly unafraid, filled with a confidence that can't be beat.

But given the season Gordon has had thus far, and with the promise that he'll continue to have more of the same in the remaining 15 races, maybe it's time Johnson should be warned about Gordon.

Be afraid, Jimmie, be very afraid. You may want title No. 7, but Gordon wants No. 5 just as much, if not more so.

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski.