Jeff Gordon has been one of the hardest drivers to figure out over the last few seasons.
Sometimes you think he is poised to make a serious run at his fifth championship, while at other times you can't help but wonder if he is even the same guy that has already won four championships.
In 2007, Gordon won series best seven pole positions.
He had six wins, which was the second most for that season, and it marked the seventh time in his career that he had scored at least half a dozen victories.
He had 30 finishes inside the top 10 that year, which was six more than his next closest competitor in that department. His 21 top five finishes also led the way. And the 1,300 laps that he led were also a series best. He ultimately finished second to his teammate Jimmie Johnson in the race for the championship.
Since then, however, it has been a world of difference. In the three plus years since 2007, Gordon has scored a total of seven poles. He has only visited victory lane twice in the last 116 races.
His last three points standing finishes have been ninth, third, and seventh, and really haven't come close to matching any of his 2007 statistics.
That's not to say that any of the last three years have been bad for Gordon, they just haven't been at all reminiscent of the time when he was the most dominant driver in the sport.
So, the big question surrounding Gordon now is: Can he ever return to that form, and make another serious run at the championship?
Gordon turns 40 this August, so realistically he is running out of time to do it. Obviously, he is on the down side of his career, and with the level of competition becoming so equal across the board, he doesn't have very many chances left.
Over the last two seasons, Gordon, at times, has shown that he can still be the best driver on the track.
Last season, though he went winless for the second time in three seasons, he put himself in a position to win multiple times throughout the year.
Even this year, Gordon has shown a few flashes of brilliance. His win at Phoenix earlier in the season was very impressive, and he looked sharp at Martinsville. This past weekend at Talladega, while teamed with Mark Martin, he was one of the best cars on the track, though that duo didn't show their stuff until about 35 laps to go.
The problem is what we see on some of the other weekends.
Obviously, not every race is going to be a good one, but the mark of a championship team is how you overcome the rough weekends and can still salvage a good finish.
That is something that his teammate, Jimmie Johnson, has become a master at. They can have a terrible race car all race long, and somehow Johnson can end up with a top 10 finish.
Gordon isn't always able to do that.
He was involved in crashes at both Daytona and Las Vegas that weren't of his doing, so those circumstances are sometimes uncontrollable. But, at Bristol, Fontana, and Texas, Gordon and the No. 24 team just couldn't put the pieces together, and ultimately finished 14th or worse in all three of those events.
For Gordon to ever compete for another championship, he needs to find a way to turn bad days in to decent days. Not every day is going to be a race winning day, but at the same time, he has to find a way to not take himself out of the championship picture by consistently posting mediocre finishes.
Gordon seems to have the fire back in him that may have been missing for parts of the last few years.
When Gordon is completely focused and on top of his game, he is nearly impossible to beat. Not even by the five time champion—his teammate—Jimmie Johnson.