Will Jeff Gordon Take a Step Forward or Backward in 2013?

Michael Guadalupe@The_GuadaFeatured ColumnistFebruary 16, 2013

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 15:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet,  during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on February 15, 2013 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Jeff Gordon has been one of the top drivers since he took the sport by storm in the early '90s.

Will the veteran driver take a step forward or backward in 2013, though?

Gordon had a rough season last year. From struggling to get into the Chase to his battle with Clint Bowyer during the Phoenix race at the end of the season, he seemed to take a step backward before the end of the 2012 season.

To add to his bad season last year, Gordon is starting to get overshadowed at Hendrick Motorsports, especially after the solid year Kasey Kahne had in 2012.

Still, he is one of the top drivers in the sport, and even though he struggled to make it into the Chase in 2012, when he finally made it in, he demonstrated some of the best driving seen all year.

Gordon also managed to win the last race of the season at Homestead, showing that he can overcome a tough situation and still compete at a high level each week.

The 2013 season is going to be different from last year, thanks in part to the Gen-6 car NASCAR is getting ready to debut.

Gordon's ability to adjust to the new car will also play a role in how well the driver does in 2013. Will he end up being one of the top drivers when the season comes to an end, or will he take a step backward instead?

A Step Backward

Let's be honest: Ever since Jimmie Johnson broke out at Hendrick Motorsports, Jeff Gordon has taken a backseat. Add in the popularity of Dale Jr. and how well Kasey Kahne did last season, and the once star driver at Hendrick Motorsports now looks like the weakest one of the group.

The effect clearly took shape last season, as NASCAR fans saw a side of the former champion that they hadn't in a while.

Regardless of whether or not Clint Bowyer antagonized Gordon during the Phoenix race at the end of the season, Gordon still responded poorly. He chose to wait for Clint and purposefully sent him into the wall. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt, but Gordon's act of retaliation was clearly a result of his frustrating season.

It was also an act that made NASCAR fans question the ability of the former champion.

Gordon also struggled to make it into the Chase last year—something else that is uncharacteristic of him. Even when he managed to finally make it into the postseason, he did nothing until the very last race of the Chase.

Maybe it's the tougher competition, or perhaps Gordon simply slipped up last season. Either way, his poor effort in the Chase, as well as the actions he took against Clint Bowyer at Phoenix, were big steps backward for him.

A Step Forward

Even though Gordon struggled last season, he ended the year on a winning note.  Being able to clash with Clint Bowyer one week and then come back a week later to win a race shows how much perseverance he has.

Now, he is heading into the start of the 2013 year coming off of a win from Homestead.  He has momentum, which can always help him and the 24 team moving forward.

Another step forward for Gordon is the new Gen-6 car NASCAR is set to unveil this season.  Not only is Hendrick Motorsports one of the top teams technology-wise in NASCAR, but Gordon has already expressed his like of the new car.

Gordon was quoted as saying (h/t Reid Spencer of Yahoo! Sports):

Now I look at this (Gen-6) race car and see where we're starting out with this car -- and it feels good. It drives good, it's forgiving, it's got a great aerodynamic balance... So far, I'm a big fan. I love it. I like what's happening underneath the car. I like the body style.

The new car could be just what Gordon needs to take a step in the right direction. Since he already has a positive feeling about the new car, he seems ready to start the 2013 season strong.

Last year, NASCAR fans watched Gordon take a step backward, as he seemed to struggle for a majority of the season. Now, with the 2013 season less than a week away, will Gordon have to deal with the same struggles?

The Gen-6 car might be the answer Gordon needs to avoid the same problems he dealt with last season. And after winning at Homstead, he proved he can overcome a difficult situation.

Gordon went through a rough patch last season, but in 2013, he will turn it around and get back to being one of the best in NASCAR.

Michael Guadalupe is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @The_Guada.


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