Not So Lucky in Las Vegas: Jeff Gordon Still Can't Beat Jimmie Johnson

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IFebruary 28, 2010

LAS VEGAS - FEBRUARY 28:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont/Pepsi Max Chevrolet, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Shelby American at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on February 28, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

If you were to sit down with Jeff Gordon, he would probably tell you that his life is perfect.

He’s got a great job, a great family, and is in great health and anyone would be blessed to have all that.

But if Gordon told you that his life was complete, he would most likely be lying. Or at least he’s not sharing everything that’s on his mind and what he’s really thinking.

While on the outside it looks like the 38-year-old couldn’t ask for much more and life couldn’t get much better, there is still one thing that Gordon doesn’t have nor has he ever been able to do: flat-out beat Jimmie Johnson.

The story has been told over and over again about the No. 48 team and how they have gone on to become four-time, four straight, Sprint Cup Series champions. It’s also been well told that since Gordon hired Johnson, the two have become great friends on and off the racetrack.

Great friends that have lopsided results when it comes to the racetrack and who is the dominant driver.

Since the 2002 season, Johnson’s rookie year, Johnson has won more races than Gordon, has won more championships than Gordon, and except for his rookie year, has finished higher in points than Gordon.

On Sunday at the Shelby American GT 350 in Las Vegas, Gordon was doing what he did best back in the 1990s, dominating a Sprint Cup race. Starting from the outside of the front row, he led the first half of the race and asserted himself as the driver to beat.

In fact Gordon led all but, ironically 48 of the 267 laps in the race. But unlike the 1990s, Jimmie Johnson was entered in this race and was in Gordon’s mirror for most of it, stalking him, watching his every corner, every lap.

Waiting to make his move and school the boss just as he did in their head-to-head battle at Martinsville in 2007 so many other times.

When a late race caution flew to set up the final run to the finish on Sunday, Gordon and Johnson along with the rest of the leaders, came down pit road for their final stops. Gordon put two tires on his No. 24 Pepsi Max/DuPont Chevrolet.

Johnson put four on his No. 48 Kobalt Tools/Lowe’s Chevy and lined up fifth on the lap 233 restart. Clint Bowyer, who hadn’t pitted, was the leader, followed by Gordon, Harvick, and then Johnson.

On the restart, Gordon quickly went back to the lead, but Johnson wasn’t far behind. The two quickly separated themselves from the field as they had done previous times and the fight to the finish was on.

For 18 laps, Gordon was able to hold off his young protégé, but with 16 circuits to go, Jimmie Johnson took the lead and then drove away for his second win in a row.

Johnson tops Gordon again.

En route to his 49th career victory, Johnson led only 18 laps, while Gordon who had led 217 laps, had to settle for third.

Jeff Gordon fans once again are wondering why he just had to hire Johnson, and for once Gordon actually admits that today is a day that he questions it too.

Today was just another day of Jimmie Johnson showing he’s still the man to beat when it comes to pretty much everything. For Gordon though, he considers it a step in the right direction of trying to compete with his teammate.

The last time that he had done so was in 2007 when Gordon was not only dominating one race; he was the most dominant driver all year long before Johnson crushed him in the Chase.

“While it’s coming in house [getting beaten] it still drives us, it inspires us, it motivates us, and the reason you saw us perform and dominate the way we did today is because of those guys pushing us,” Gordon said.

“We don’t take that lightly and we’re just like any other competitor out there, we’re pissed off about it, and we came here today on a mission and we did it all day long. Unfortunately, the two tire stop just didn’t work out for us.”

Feb. 28, 2010, will be marked down as the first race in a long time that Jeff Gordon might have been able to beat Jimmie Johnson. Gordon would not only have beaten him, but flat-out crush him like he did to everyone on the track for 217 laps.

Instead, his team took the fastest car in the field and instead of putting four tires on it to keep it going fast, put on just two.

As soon as Gordon did that and Johnson had four, the race was all but over. Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus said it best, “This has Jimmie Johnson written all over it.”

And it did, four tires will beat two every time.

Knaus said in the winner’s press conference that Gordon’s crew chief, Steve LeTarte, didn’t make the wrong call on taking two, but others don’t agree. Gordon even radioed to his crew after the restart that he wasn’t going to be able to do much with Johnson’s four tires behind him.

“I knew we were a sitting duck when we got into first. I got a great restart, which was our only chance that we could possibly have, knowing that Clint [Bowyer] was on old tires. So, I got a good restart and got by him but it was just a matter of time because two vs. four, and I was just so tight,” was how Gordon summed it up.

“I ran so hard trying to get his [Johnson’s] car to tighten up behind me with dirty air and I blocked him, I did everything I could. It just took everything out of the right front tire and it just built the right front tire up so much that I was just plowing.”

In his post-race press conference, Gordon continued by saying that he felt that if both he and Johnson had equal tires it would have come down to who was out front at the end of the race.

Gordon was also confident that if they both had taken two tires he would have beaten Johnson or if he had been out front with four tires like much of the race.

“He could catch me but he didn’t have anything for me once he caught me.”

Coulda, woulda, shoulda. But on this day the 24 team didn’t and that’s the reason why no matter how good they may be all day long, Jimmie Johnson still has Jeff Gordon’s number and it doesn’t look like that will end anytime soon.