NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship 2011: 6 Reasons Jeff Gordon Will Win Again
Jeff Gordon's last Cup series championship came in 2001. Since then, he has watched his teammate and protege Jimmie Johnson win five championships, one more than Gordon's career total of four.
Gordon is as hungry as ever to win another championship, and everyone knows it. Could 2011, 10 years after his last title, be the year he finally gets it done?
Here are six reasons to believe that Gordon's Drive for five is alive.
1. New Crew Chief Alan Gustafson
With a new crew chief, Gordon is feeling more confident and optimistic than he has in recent seasons.
Alan Gustafson has infused new life and energy into the No. 24 team, and Gordon is again having fun and enjoying the day-to-day business of racing.
It doesn't hurt that the duo won in only their second race together, at Phoenix last month.
For the last several years, Steve Letarte served as Gordon's crew chief. Gordon steadfastly supported Letarte and the job he was doing with the No. 24 team.
But for whatever reason, the relationship failed to produce results after the 2007 season when Gordon narrowly lost the title to Johnson.
Gordon was paired with Gustafson following the 2010 season as part of the crew chief/driver swap at Hendrick Motorsports that also involved the crew chiefs of Mark Martin and Dale Jr.
Many believe Gordon got the best end of the deal, and so far the results have been encouraging. Gordon is back to his old ways, running up front and winning races again.
2. Gordon Is Off to a Strong Start in 2011
Gordon has led laps in each of the first three races of 2011, including a race-high 138 laps at Phoenix. And by the way, he won that race with a thrilling pass of Kyle Busch in the closing laps.
Gordon is again feeling the thrill of running up front, mixing it up for victories and celebrating in Victory Lane.
It’s true that Gordon sits 19th in the points, due to crashes at Daytona and Las Vegas. But focusing on that single stat is misleading.
But don’t think that Gordon’s title hopes are down just because he’s currently low in the standings.
Before the advent of the Chase, Gordon's position in the points would have been serious concern for a driver’s championship hopes.
However, the points are now reset with 10 races to go, and Gordon’s current position in the standings will only serve as extra motivation to post the top finishes that he and his team are capable of.
3. Gordon's No. 24 Team No Longer Shares a Shop with the No. 48 Team
The sight of Jimmie Johnson's rapidly growing collection of championship trophies at the race shop shared by both teams must have eaten away at the confidence of Gordon's race team.
It was a continual reminder that the sport Gordon once dominated was now controlled by his protege.
For years, the two teams shared the same facility in what was called the 2-4-8 shop. However, as part of the Hendrick crew chief swap, the No. 24 team is now paired with Mark Martin's No. 5 team, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 team is sharing space with the five-time defending champ.
Putting some distance between himself and the constant reminder that Johnson has eclipsed his own mark of four Cup titles should eliminate unwelcome distractions and bring a renewed focus to Gordon and the entire No. 24 team.
4. Fan Enthusiasm Is on Gordon's Side
Gordon was amazed by how popular his Phoenix victory proved to be.
Of course, it didn't hurt that by passing Kyle Busch with eight laps to go he became the only driver to beat Busch all weekend.
Nonetheless, after the race Gordon acknowledged the fans and thanked them for staying after the race to show their support.
Long gone are the days when Gordon, known in his youth as NASCAR's "Wonder Boy," was lustily booed by supporters of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and other established drivers. Gordon has matured into one of NASCAR's elder statesmen, and he is now a sentimental favorite with many fans.
An invigorated fan base will help motivate Gordon and propel him to the 2011 Sprint Cup title.
Gordon wants to win for the sake of his daughter Ella. He wants her to be able to remember her daddy winning races and championships.
Gordon believes it wouldn't be enough for Ella to simply know that her father was a great driver. Nothing would be quite the same as Ella actually seeing and remembering him dominating on the racetrack.
In addition, he hasn’t won a title since his marriage to Ingrid Vandebosch. Gordon would surely like to experience a championship celebration with her as well.
6. Gordon Knows the Clock Is Ticking
It’s been 10 years since Gordon's last title.
Only once previously has a driver gone that long between championships. Terry Labonte won his first title in 1984 and didn't win his second until 1996.
Gordon is well aware that he’s getting older, and his days are an elite driver are numbered. Heck, Gordon is even sponsored by AARP.
He's lucky his back problems haven't been as serious as feared, but Gordon knows he has no time to lose if he wants to win another championship.
The pieces are all in place, and Gordon is driving with the fire of his younger days. 2011 will be the year he finally wins that elusive fifth championship.