By admin | August 19, 2008
By Richard Allen
As a high school social studies teacher I have had just enough training in the field of psychology to be dangerous. However, one thing I have learned, and that does not take much training to figure out, is that pressure forces people to do things outside their normal character.
This weekend showed that very fact on two of NASCAR’s top teams. And apparently, the pressure is not limited to those who have never been in title fights before.
Jeff Gordon has won four Sprint Cup championships and 81 races over his stellar career. Few drivers have felt, and handled, the pressure cooker of a championship run better than he has. However, the strain of not running well and seeing another year go by without a title showed on Gordon in Michigan.
It is not uncommon for a competitive driver, or athlete of any sort, to occasionally admonish teammates. Anyone who has attended a race with a scanner has probably heard great drivers such as Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart or any number of other championship caliber competitors get onto their crews when the occasion called for it.
Gordon is no different in that respect. In Michigan, his crew was having a bad day and he let them know about over the in car radio. Where Gordon departed from the norm was when he was interviewed by television and other media in the garage after he had been involved in a crash. That crash was due, at least in part, to the fact that a poor pit stop had mired his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet deep in the pack.
“We finally had an awesome car but had awful pit stops,” he said. “We didn’t have the total package today.”
Not only did Gordon call out his crew for their performance on pit road but a closer examination of the quote also shows his discontent with the cars his team has provided him this season.
If Gordon does not win this Saturday in Bristol it will be the deepest into a season he has gone without a victory since 1994. That very well could be weighing on him. Or, perhaps at the age of 37 Gordon may have come to the realization that he has more wins behind him than he has ahead of him.
Gordon has often been criticized by his detractors for being too politically correct. Whether it be pressure, frustration or realization, he acted a bit out of character on Sunday.
As a result of his 42nd place finish in Michigan, Gordon fell to 9th place in the standings and is only 82 points ahead of 13th.
Gordon was not the only driver to have pressure cause his crew to feel the brunt of his comments.
Denny Hamlin had pointed words for his Joe Gibbs Racing team members in Michigan. His remarks even went further than Gordon’s.
Unlike Gordon, Hamlin has never won a Sprint Cup championship. The pressure of trying to earn that first title reared its ugly head as he was interviewed as well.
“We make some stupid choices,” the Toyota driver said referring to his team’s decision to go with a new engine package. “At this point we don’t deserve to be in the Chase.”
A late race blown engine resulted in a 39th place finish for Hamlin. He is now 12th in the standings just 26 points ahead of 13th.
The pressure is mounting. There are only three remaining before the cutoff takes place and the Chase for the Championship begins.
And then, the pressure starts all over again.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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