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« Kyle Busch sparking a Gibbs vs Hendrick rivalry could add flavor to this NASCAR season | Main | Five Races Until the Chase: Who’s In and Who’s Out? »

The Jeff Gordon who got beat on that last restart wasn’t the Jeff Gordon of the 1990’s

By admin | August 4, 2013

gordon.jpg 

By Richard Allen

As a fan of NASCAR racing, I hold Jeff Gordon in the highest of regards. As a matter of fact, I consider him to be one of the top three or four drivers of my lifetime, and that lifetime takes in some of the sport’s most recognizable names. He is, without doubt, a first ballot Hall of Fame driver.

However, there comes a time in the careers of all great competitors, whether it be in racing or any other sport, when it becomes apparent that the abilities of that particular legend just aren’t what they used to be. To me, that moment in the career of Jeff Gordon came on the final restart of the GoBowling.com 400 at the Pocono Raceway on Sunday afternoon.

After a Matt Kenseth spin brought out a caution at lap 156 of the 160 lap event on the 2.5 mile speedway, the field was given the green flag with two laps to go. Gordon, as the race leader, chose the inside line for the restart while Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne fired from the outside of the front row.

This final restart came just moments after Gordon had outdueled Kahne in a similar situation laps earlier. And had it not been for the Kenseth spin, it appeared as if Gordon would score the 88th Sprint Cup victory of his brilliant career.

Instead, however, Gordon pulled out to a slight lead at the drop of the final green flag as the cars roared into turn one. But Kahne came rushing back with a head of steam on the outside. The two cars were even as they raced side by side down the so-called Long Pond straightaway. But as they entered the “tunnel turn” Gordon got out of the gas noticeably earlier than did Kahne. From there, the #24 trailed his teammate back to the white flag and ultimately to the checkered.

“I lost that one for us guys,” Gordon told his crew over the team radio as he crossed the finish line.

In his post-race interview, Gordon himself admitted that he had been outdone.

“I thought we had him,” the four time series champion said. ”He was better than us, but I thought we could hold him off. I kind of protected the inside but he blasted up on the outside and outdrove me.”

As a Rusty Wallace fan at the time, I can remember leaving the Bristol Motor Speedway on a couple of occasions more than a little angry that my driver had been out driven by the guy in the #24 car. I can also remember instances when Gordon refused to back down from Hall of Famers like Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and Dale Jarrett.

That Jeff Gordon would not have gotten passed on the outside going into the tunnel turn with less than two laps to go. But on his 42nd birthday, the father of two who has already achieved just about all there is to achieve in this sport did get passed.

This column was not written to say that this driver is done by any means. After all, he is still very much in the Chase for the Sprint Cup race. And in my opinion, he’s still better than three-fourths of the guys(and girls) out there on any given Sunday. He just isn’t the Jeff Gordon of the 1990’s anymore. That Jeff Gordon was one of the greatest drivers of all time.

In a way, this is more of a statement about each of us. When we realize that time has caught up to those we idolize, it reminds us that time has caught up to us as well.

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17 Responses to “The Jeff Gordon who got beat on that last restart wasn’t the Jeff Gordon of the 1990’s”

  1. Richard Allen Says:
    August 4th, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    As I was writing this column, I posted the statement as it reads in the headline of this piece on Twitter and Facebook. Here are some of the responses I received:

    @jackrlewis: been a diehard fan since I was 4… I agree

    @jasonskelton7: Lost his nerve. It’s been evident for awhile and today sealed that.

    @JLMHokie: He hasn’t been the Jeff Gordon of the 1990’s for over 10 years. his heart isn’t in it, he’s collecting a paycheck

    @Krista_Babybear: I think we saw the passing of the torch today at Hendrick

    @21alonzo: Sounded like Jeff Gordon was going to cry. The other day it sounded like Jeff was closer to retiring

    @TylerJStrong: however, the guy who muscled the lead away from KK on the previous restart WAS the Jeff Gordon of the 1990s

    @21MudSlinger: Basic fact of life… As you get older you think more about being pinned beneath the steering wheel. He’s takin a few rides

    @MattTaliaferro: The Tunnel Turn solidified many unfounded theories I’ve had for a minute or two

  2. Offkilter Says:
    August 4th, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    Great piece, Rich. Gordon was even more dominant in his prime than JimmIE is right now. I remember Gordon snagging the brickyard pole one year by coming out of turn 4 sideways and not letting out. That Jeff Gordon does not race today. But, i cannot think of a current driver in cup that has had as many violent crashes as Gordon. That has to take its toll.

  3. marian Says:
    August 4th, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Love your report….nice

  4. Tony Geinzer Says:
    August 5th, 2013 at 12:07 am

    If Jeff Gordon retires and Chad Knaus is fired all because JJ couldn’t win 6, it would be a brand new brand of Fresh Air to the Decade’s End.

  5. Leto Says:
    August 5th, 2013 at 12:19 am

    Rich, some of those responses are exactly why it always seems like the extent of stupidity of sports fans- NASCAR fans included- is never-ending.

    Yes, Gordon got beat on that last restart. But pretty much every driver in the field has gotten beat on a late race restart that likely cost them a win, even the infallible Kyle Busch.

    I know Gordon fans have to be about as frustrated as Jr fans right about now about how close he is to winning a race- or hell, about 10 races- but just can’t seal it.

  6. Henry Says:
    August 5th, 2013 at 3:19 am

    Offkilter is a genius, he can see the difference. I’m sure Jeff’s several TREMENDOUS wrecks have taken their toll over the years, the difference for me is the cars. They are so aero dependent now with their solid suspension, the difference from the cars of yore with working springs and shocks has got to be night and day. Here is what I think, if Jeff and Kasey had rubbed sides in the tunnel turn both would have crashed and there is where experience comes in. Lifting the gas when needed. Flame me is you want I don’t care.

  7. RacingFan Says:
    August 5th, 2013 at 3:22 am

    Jeff was definitely a superstar in talent and showed it on the track in many ways. I remember Mark Martin making a comment about learning something by observing him at Watkins Glen when a young Jeff was racing against Mark.

    But let’s be consistent. I constantly see posts downplaying Jimmy Johnson’s talent and attributing much of his success to his crew chief. Without Ray Evernham, I don’t think Jeff’s lifetime stats would be as good as they are to this point either.

    Drivers such as Johnson and Gordon, who spend almost or all of their career driving for Hendrick might encourage many to attribute much of their success to the car. This happened to Petty. Many people feel that other drivers were better than him, but since he had a better car he had more success.

    If you can tolerate one ancient example from 1974, when Bobby Allison stepped into Roger Penske’s AMC Matador, it immediately changed from a slow car to a fast one. That to me is a sign of driving talent. He also had success with many different teams and many different crew chiefs. That is a clear sign of greatness. However, if he could have stayed with Junior Johnson his entire career, his stats could have been incredible.

  8. Bill B Says:
    August 5th, 2013 at 6:27 am

    I think you thought are accurate Rich however I do want to point out that Gordon is in a precarious situation right now with the chase. Kahne could afford to take a chance because he already has a win, Jeff could not. If he would have went for it and made contact with Kahne, that would have been the kiss of death for his chase chances. No doubt age is catching up with him and no doubt he isn’t the dominant force he once was, but I’m not sure yesterday’s instance proves that (you don’t have to look far for other examples though). Plus, I feel Kahne’s car was better anyway. Jeff almost stole one yesterday.

  9. Tim Smith Says:
    August 5th, 2013 at 7:24 am

    A few yrs ago at atlanta. Kahne blew the doors off edwards and johnson. Are they old too.

  10. Bill H Says:
    August 5th, 2013 at 9:04 am

    “It looked like I needed to block the inside line.” As I predicted before the restart, he was so focused on blocking Newman he forgot to race Kahne. This is one of the problems of NASCAR today. It used to be they raced by driving fast. Nowadays thay “protect their position.” Yecch.

  11. PTBOY 24 Says:
    August 5th, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Really? Jeff Gordon is a different driver than he was 23 years ago. Thats some first class analysis.

  12. GinaV24 Says:
    August 5th, 2013 at 11:05 am

    No, he’s not the Gordon of the 90’s but he’s still a darn fine driver. He actually didn’t get beat on the restart, he got beat coming out of the turn, but the result was the same.

    I really wanted him to get that win yesterday, for many reasons, including a safety net for making the stupid chase. If he had wrecked with Kasey, he could have ruined all the hard work they put in at Pocono. Overall, Jeff and the team ran a good race on Sunday, heck, he drove up from 21st or 22nd, wherever they started.

  13. GinaV24 Says:
    August 5th, 2013 at 11:08 am

    Racing fan, Jeff Gordon has had a lot of different crew chiefs and driven a lot of different styles in NASCAR. He may not have had the multiple championships that he earned with Ray E as his crew chief, but he has consistently performed in the top 10 for most of those 23 years.

    There are not a lot of other drivers who have experienced as much change as Gordon and still been able to do that.

  14. Bill B Says:
    August 5th, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    GinaV24,
    Don’t forget, one of those championships were with Robbie Loomis as crewchief. The only constant is Hendrick. And Hendrick wasn’t a championship team until he came along.

  15. RacingFan Says:
    August 5th, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Gina,

    Evaluating the talent of a driver is difficult in NASCAR, because the quality of the car he drives is so important. That applies even to comparing a driver to his past. A driver’s ability to work with his crew chief to get the car designed right is also part of that talent, not just his ability to drive the car.

    When Ray left Jeff, some speculated that he had the setups for the next few races already picked out. After those races, Jeff’s performance was never quite the same, although, as you say, it was and still is very good.
    Yes, he has had many different crew chiefs, but through it all he has had the advantage of the reliability and power of the Hendrick engines, a good Hendrick crew chief, a consistent and familiar Hendrick chasis and no money worries, including not having to worry about tearing up a car. Many driving greats from the past, including Bobby Allison, did not always have those advantages to work with, which makes comparisons difficult.

  16. Howie Feltersnatch Says:
    August 5th, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Yesterday at Pocono shows exactly why Gordon will never win another championship. He was completely fine with second place and even with the abomination that is the chase format you can never be OK with anything other than first. I had always hoped that Gordon would rack up a few more championships and be up there with Earnhardt and Petty but that will unfortunately never happen but look out for number 48 because it really looks like he will pass both of those legends. Anyhow, Gordons best days are obviously in the rear veiw and I think that future wins will be very few and far between if at all, and so it goes.

  17. Jeff Says:
    August 5th, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    The 24 got beat by the faster car. The 5 killed the start after the debris caution. The 78 gave the 5 the momentum he needed after the 20 spin. The 24 never had a chance on the 2nd restart. Thanks Matt!!!!

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