By admin | October 9, 2011
By Richard Allen
Seemingly each week into the ten race Chase for the Championship playoff a different driver falls from realistic contention for the Sprint Cup title. This week, to the surprise of many including this writer, the victim is four time champion Jeff Gordon.
As his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson appears to be gathering steam, Gordon saw his hopes go up in smoke on Sunday afternoon at the Kansas Speedway.
A late race blown engine during the Hollywood Casino 400 relegated Gordon to a very disappointing 34th place result. That, in turn, landed the driver of car #24 all the way back in the 10th spot of the standings. More importantly, Gordon finds himself 47 points behind leader Carl Edwards. That is essentially the number of points that can be scored in one race under the new system NASCAR put in place over the most recent off season.
Gordon joins Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as those too far back to have any realistic hope of leaving the Homestead-Miami Speedway in November with a large trophy in hand. Each of those Chasers is trailing by more than 40 points with only six races remaining on the schedule.
Coming into the Chase, Gordon seemed poised to make a serious run at what has proven to be an elusive fifth Sprint Cup title. He last won a championship in 2001. New crew chief Alan Gustafson appeared to have formed a bond with his driver in the first year of their working relationship that had this team looking as strong as any of the twelve qualifiers.
Gordon had won three races coming into this year’s playoff, which made this his first multiple win season since 2007. And, he seemed to have momentum at just the right time, coming into the Chase with four straight top-10 finishes including a hard fought win over Johnson in Atlanta just two weeks before the playoff was set to begin.
Gordon’s name was on virtually every list of those considered a contender to finally end Johnson’s unprecedented run of five consecutive championships. However, finishes of 24th, 4th, 12th and 34th in the first four playoff events are not what is needed to keep pace in such a system as is currently in use.
Instead of earning another crown, Gordon now finds himself in the position of having to salvage whatever he can in 2011 and build toward next season. Just a few short weeks ago this is not what most observers expected for this driver.
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