By admin | April 9, 2012
By Richard Allen
The NASCAR Sprint Cup season is only six races old, so to some it may seem far too early to be considering whether or not any driver is in contention or out of contention for a championship.
However, consider a couple of key points before dismissing title talk at this point of the year. First, the season is now broken into two segments. Unlike the years prior to 2004 in which the entire schedule counted toward the championship as a whole, there is a cutoff after 26 races that will determine if a driver has a shot or not. So, drivers and teams are actually just under one-fourth of the way to that cutoff.
And, even though there have only been six races completed thus far, those races have hit just about every type of track the series competes on. There has been a restrictor plate race, a one-mile track, two short tracks and two of the 1.5-2 mile ‘cookie cutters’. Strengths and weaknesses have been revealed on every type of track teams will see for the rest of the year except for road courses.
With all that said, Jeff Gordon looks like a driver who could already be considered out of contention for the 2012 title. The four time champion currently sits in the 21st position in the Sprint Cup standings. He has scored only one top-10 finish and has three races in which he finished 26th or worse. However, those raw statistics do not tell the entire story of this driver’s season.
Gordon has been a contender for the win, or at least a strong finish, in almost every race this year only to have circumstances work against him at some point. He has managed to lead at least one lap in every event which, even if those laps led came during pit stop exchanges, show that he had a car capable of running near the front of the pack.
In two races this season Gordon has been the victim of crashes that were hardly his fault. At Bristol, slight contact between he and teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. cut a left rear tire on the #24 machine which sent him spinning into the wall and causing enough damage to send Gordon to the garage area. What looked like a top-5 run in the making turned into a 35th place finish in the blink of an eye.
And in the most recent race at Martinsville, Gordon dominated the event by leading 328 laps until a controversial late race caution created a double-file green/white/checkered restart. That, in turn, led to a door slamming battle between the top-3 cars which eliminated Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer from contention to win. For Gordon, what looked like a victory, or at worst a top-3 run, turned into a 14th place finish in one corner of the half-mile track.
While there’s really no way to even guess how things might have turned out in the crap shoot that is restrictor plate racing, Gordon did have a strong car in Daytona only to have the engine go up in flames and result in a 40th place finish.
The point of this piece is to show that with just a little bit of good luck, Gordon could easily be in the top-10 of the standings rather than 21st. His car and team have been far stronger than his results indicate.
So, I am predicting that even though he is 90 points out of the lead in the Sprint Cup standings, and more importantly, 53 points out of 10th place, Jeff Gordon will recover from this poor start to make the Chase for the Championship.
By the time the checkered flag falls in Richmond to end the 26th race on the schedule, Gordon will either be in the top-10 or he will have scored enough wins to place him in one of the two wildcard spots.
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