Every February, for the past nine years, Jeff Gordon fans have had one thing on their minds...
Is this the year Gordon finally accomplishes the Drive for Five?
After hoisting the champion’s trophy for the fourth time in 2001, it's hard to believe that almost 10 years later Gordon has not hoisted another one.
Gordon’s failure to achieve a fifth championship is not from lack of trying. He is the only driver to have scored more championship points in a season and not be crowned champion.
It has happened to Gordon three times; twice at the hands of Jimmie Johnson.
After posting a third place finish in the standings last year, Gordon has returned to his championship form this year, posting 10 top 10s, nine top fives, and consistently climbing the points ladder into second place.
While these statistics are pretty impressive, something significant is still missing: wins.
Just short of buying the small piece of real estate at each track, Gordon has done everything he can this year to park in victory lane.
If Gordon’s season continues on the same track (no pun intended) as it has so far this year, he would drop to sixth place when the chase starts.
There are five drivers in the top 12 in points who have at least two wins so far this year. Only one of those drivers, Kevin Harvick, is ahead of Gordon in the current points standings.
With 10 bonus points awarded for a win, once the chase starts, five of those drivers would leap frog over Gordon.
To add insult to injury, there are two drivers still within striking distance of the top 12 who have at least one win.
At the top of the bonus heap is Gordon’s employee and nemesis, Jimmie Johnson.
Although at this point Denny Hamlin has as many bonus points as Johnson, Jimmie would be listed as first because of current point’s standings.
All is not lost though. It is quite possible Gordon could go the entire year without a win, and still secure the championship.
While quite possible, it’s also almost impossible.
Johnson has made the Chase his own personal playground for the past four years in a row. Along with crew chief Chad Knaus, Johnson has been very vocal about winning a fifth consecutive championship.
To have any chance at all, and with at least a 50-point disadvantage going into the first Chase race at New Hampshire, Gordon would have to start off with a win and hope Johnson and Hamlin would have monumental meltdowns.
This scenario is plausible, but, like a championship with no wins, almost impossible.
Gordon has seven more chances to visit victory lane before the chase begins.
Unfortunately for Gordon, so does every other driver.
There’s always next February.
Photo Credit: David Yeazell