Texas Justice: Can Jeff Gordon Return to Victory Lane in the Lone Star State?
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When it comes to Texas Motor Speedway and Jeff Gordon, things usually head in two distinct directions. Top-10 finish or bust.
At times, he's been able to conquer the 1.5-mile quad-oval speedway with some ease, logging in a victory, seven top-fives and nine top-10 finishes.
One of Gordon's more memorable moments in his storied career took place at this facility last year in the spring race, when he won the Samsung 500, ironically his most recent victory.
However, there are also bad finishes of 13th or worse at this facility, including four crash related DNFs (1998-1999, 2008 and April 2010). The inaugural race at Texas proved fruitless for the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet team, crashing out just midway into the event, while running in second position.
In addition, there were those country song like wrecks from 1998-'00, when he would get swept up either by somebody else or something else, including a grinding solo crash in '99 that resulted in bruised ribs from his impact with the fourth turn outside retaining wall.
Next, was heartache in the making for a race that looked like victory well within reach for "The Rainbow Warrior."
On the most recent NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at "The Great American Racetrack", Gordon looked poised to capture his second win, dominating the event by leading 124 of the 334 laps run on an overcast Monday afternoon. Surely, the checkered flag was in the offing, but it was not to be, as he was involved in a late-race crash that eliminated him from the finish just 17 laps too soon.
A lot has happened since that 500-miler, including the sudden falloff in the DuPont team's performance despite a Chase berth and a relatively solid 2010 season. Sitting fourth in points with 11 top-fives and 17 top-10's, it's the kind of year that most teams outside the Chase (save for Jamie McMurray) would embrace.
However, victories and titles are supposedly the measure of success for one of NASCAR's perennial forces, given their success in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Call it what you will, be it a rich roster of talent that includes teammate and current title dynasty holder Jimmie Johnson, Richard Childress Racing's triumvirate of Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer, the Joe Gibbs duo of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch and the list goes on and on.
Simply put, Gordon's success raised the bar of his competitors' abilities, going a bit faster than that No. 24 red, orange, yellow and black Chevrolet Impala and, thus, capturing wins at a blinding clip.
That's not to say that he's forgotten how to win in NASCAR and he certainly hopes to prove that this Sunday afternoon in the sixth running of the AAA Texas 500 (Live, 3 PM ET on ESPN).
Anxious for the series return to the 14-year-old Speedway Motorsports Inc. owned venue, Gordon said that his team, led by crew chief Steve Letarte, will head into the race weekend using the same setup from April during pre-race practice sessions.
"We're going to go back there the same way we were," Gordon said during his hauler press conference last Saturday at Talladega. "We're going to find out how much this sport and setups have changed since we were last there and then we will fine-tune it from there."
"We had such a great car there, it is hard to go back any different. I expect for us to still be really strong there and I am excited about that."
That might spell trouble for the rest of his competitors, something that was a common trend back in his heydays of the late 1990s, when just a verbal cue from the source himself incited some fear with his fellow drivers.
While the four-time Cup champion seems realistically eliminated from the title hunt, trailing points leader Jimmie Johnson by 207 points, a good run at Texas, ranging from a victory to a top 10, along with trouble striking the front three drivers in the points battle, could make the Chase into a four-man race.
With last Sunday's AMP Energy Juice 500 at Talladega Superspeedway being relatively tranquil for the Chase contenders, one has to wonder when that inevitable wild card race will take place.
It may not happen, but then again, stranger things have happened in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, particularly with Gordon (remember Martinsville in April of 2004, anybody?). Anything is possible, although the likelihood of a pothole in Texas happening is like hoping for Tom Brady to cut his hair or Jimmie Johnson shaving his cabin man beard.
Until the numbers say otherwise, this title race is still to be decided and, while most have concluded it to be a triple threat, if it becomes a quartet, it will be that way because of a superb finish and some "Texas Justice" from the No. 24 DuPont team, who are capable of some "Hail Mary" wins when needed.
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