Jeff Gordon is a four-time series champion, but has had his fair share of struggles over the last few seasons. Things looked to really be turning around earlier this year, when he scored a win in Phoenix, but for the most part, it has been a hit-or-miss type season for Gordon.
Though the statistics he has put up over the last few years aren't quite what we would normally expect from a driver of his caliber, they haven't been bad either.
So, where does that leave Gordon for the rest of the season? Is he going to rebound and turn in another stellar season, or can we expect to see him continue to hover around toward the cutoff line for the Chase?
I am going to make 10 bold predictions for what the rest of the season has in store for Gordon.
Jeff Gordon began running full time in the Sprint Cup Series in 1993. He has scored at least one pole in each season since joining the full time ranks.
In each of the past two seasons, Gordon has only scored one pole each season. Prior to that, you could count on him to win multiple poles. From 1998 through 2008, not only did he score at least one pole, but Gordon won multiple pole awards each season.
I think he returns to those roots this year. He already scored the pole at Talladega, and has started seventh or better in five out of 11 races this year. He has qualified very well at both restrictor plate tracks, so he should be a threat again when the series returns. And don't forget that there are still two road races to go as well. Gordon is always strong on the series' two-road courses.
Speaking of road courses, Jeff Gordon is one of the sports premier drivers when it comes to making both left and right hand turns. In 36 career starts on road courses, Gordon has won nine times and finished in the top-10 25 times.
During the late 1990s and early part of the 2000s, Gordon was the dominant force on the road. From 1997 through 1999, Gordon won five road course races in a row.
Though he hasn't won a road course race since 2006, he has still continued run strong. He finished in the top-10 in both road races last year, and has eight top-10s in the last nine Sonoma races.
When the series returns to Sonoma in a few weeks, look for Gordon to snap his five year winless draught on the road courses.
Jeff Gordon has only been to victory lane twice since the end of the 2007 season. In both 2008 and last season, he went winless, while in 2009 and so far this year, has seen him win one race in each season.
Prior to that draught, Gordon only failed to win multiple races once in his career, and that was in his rookie season of 1993.
While last year was a disappointment in terms of wins, Gordon put himself in a position to win on a few different occasions. The same has held true this year. He won the race at Phoenix, and was a quarter of lap short from winning at Talladega.
I think this team is much better than some of their other finishes would indicate, and I really look for them to hit their stride, and start putting together some very good finishes.
That includes a barrage of wins. Don't be surprised to see him win at least one of the two road races, as well as one of the two remaining restrictor plate races. Then there are also the short tracks where Gordon made a habit of running strong.
He should be able to rattle off multiple wins in final two thirds of the season.
To win races, you have to lead laps. So far this season, Gordon has led a total of 192 laps. That ranks him seventh in that category. Last year, he led 919 laps, which was the fourth most in the series.
I think that along with posting better finishes, Gordon and his team will find a way to run better all around. And that includes getting out front and leading laps on a more regular basis. To match last years laps led total, he needs to pace 727 laps over the last 25 events.
With both road courses, as well as tracks like Martinsville and Bristol still to come up again, where Gordon typically is extremely strong, look for him to get out front and stay there for a while.
Once the team really starts to run better, which will be any week now, Gordon will be up at the front of the pack and leading a whole lot of laps, just like we are accustomed to seeing.
So far this year, Gordon has two DNF's. They came as a result of crashes, at Las Vegas and Richmond. Expect those to be the only two DNF's that Gordon gets this year.
As mentioned, I think this team is just about to hit their stride, and really string together some strong runs. As a result of that, Gordon will find himself up near the front more and hopefully well out of harms way when accidents happen.
While everyone expects the big one to happen at both Daytona and Talladega, I think Gordon has found a strategy that works really well for him, and should keep him out of trouble at both of those tracks. He and Mark Martin teamed together all race long and paced themselves to stay out of trouble at Talladega. Look for them to employ that strategy at both restrictor plate tracks later this year.
As long as the Hendrick engines hold out like they typically do, I don't think Gordon will find himself in too much trouble, and should be able to be running at the end of every race from here on out.
This prediction really won't matter too much if Gordon fails to make the Chase. But don't count on that. Gordon currently finds himself in 14th place in the points standings, but under the new Chase qualifying rules, he would be in by virtue of his Phoenix win.
He currently finds himself 29 points out of 10th place, which is the last guaranteed spot in the Chase. With 15 races left before the Chase field is set, I think Gordon will put himself in the top-10 in points and not have to rely on his win total to get him in to the field.
Once the Chase starts, I look for this team to continue the strong runs that will have propelled them into the Chase.
Of the 10 tracks in the Chase, Gordon has won at all of them except for Homestead. And only at Texas has he failed to finish in the top-10 at least half of the times that he has run there.
By the time the Chase rolls around, Gordon should be riding a large wave of momentum, and should be able to carry that throughout the last 10 races of the year.
By now, you may be aware that Jimmie Johnson is the five-time defending Sprint Cup Series champion. In 2007, Johnson edged Gordon to win his then second straight championship.
For this prediction to come true, we have to assume that Johnson will not win an unprecedented sixth straight championship. While Johnson is always a threat to win, this year has seemed much more balanced all across the board in terms of competition.
With so much parity in the sport right now, any mistake by any of the eventual Chasers will result in a huge points setback. As mentioned earlier, I think that Gordon will have a near flawless Chase, and Johnson and the No. 48 haven't shown the dominance this season that we are accustomed to seeing out of them.
All that coupled together would result in Gordon being the highest finishing Hendrick Motorsports driver this season.
If Gordon achieves everything that I have predicted for the rest of this season, than this one would be a no-brainer. If he can qualify for the Chase, and then rattle off 10 straight top-15 finishes, he should easily coast in to a top-three position in the final standings.
Before the season started, I predicted Gordon would finish runner up in the points standings. I still think that he is more than capable of finishing there, but the team has to hit their stride real quick to have a shot at that.
Gordon has shown more fire in the last year and a half than he did in 2008 and in 2009, so I can see them turning the corner, and when they finally get to that point that they are capable of being at, he will once again be one of the best that the sport has to offer.