By admin | February 10, 2009
By Richard Allen
There are three very important words for everyone hoping for a Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham reunion to remember; Car of Tomorrow. Gordon has never really adapted to it and Evernham has never really worked on it.
Evernhamâ€™s apparent departure from the team he started has led to the all to obvious rumor mill suggestion that the old crew chief should reunite with his old driver. That rumor was provided more fuel when Gordon made reference to Evernhamâ€™s availability.
“We’ve always stayed great friends, and I admire him and he’s a sharp guy and he’s done a lot, obviously, in this sport,” Gordon said. “We’re always looking to find ways to make ourselves better. If it was ever the case, it wouldn’t be in a crew chief role. If it’s an engineer, if it’s a team manager, whatever options are out there for anybody we always take them serious. With my experience with Ray being so positive in the past, I certainly wouldn’t throw it out. It’s not something that is happening, but it’s not something that I would ever say never would.”
Of course Gordon is not going to directly say he would love to have Evernham back on the pit box and thus sabotage his season along with current crew chief, Steve Letarte.
Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick did not exactly discount the possibility of an Evernham return trip to his garage when asked about the possibility. “We consult with each other all the time,” Hendrick said. “That hasn’t changed since he left. He calls me, and I talk to him. We share information. We talked about the fact that the manufacturers were not going to be around as strong as they are three or four years ago. We think a lot alike, and I respect his knowledge a ton. We talk almost every week. We’ve been consultants to each other.â€
Gordon and Evernham may have to be considered the top driver and crew chief combination of the past 20 years. They combined for 49 race wins and three championship trophies.
Evernham left Hendrick Motorsports at the end of 1999 to begin the work of forming his own team.
As successful as they were as a team back then, a lot has changed since the driver and crew chief were last together. When the two last worked with each other there was no Car of Tomorrow, there was no Chase for the Championship, there was no Toyota involvement in Sprint Cup, and perhaps most importantly there was not Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus to go up against.
In particular, the CoT has been a tricky proposition for drivers and crews. It seems as though a few have been able to grasp the temperamental machine and most have not. And of those who have been able to grasp the new technology, there are more young drivers than those who have been around since the 1990s or longer.
Of course, the three drivers to take to the new car the quickest were Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch, none of whom were racing in the Sprint Cup division before 2000.
Gordon did win races in the CoT in the carâ€™s initial test season of 2007, when the car was used on a part time basis. But clearly, he was not happy with the way his cars drove last season and as a result went winless for the first time in 15 years. One has to wonder if Gordon would be willing to change a driving style that has allowed for so much success in the past to fit the new car.
Evernham has never directly worked on the CoT. Almost certainly, he played some role in the carâ€™s set up as an owner. However, an owner is not very much able to directly involve himself enough to really have a feel for what the car is doing.
This is not to say a Gordon and Evernham reunion would not produce wins, but it would seem unlikely that a return to the prominence of the mid to late 1990s could be achieved. Gordon is one of the greatest drivers the sport has ever seen and Evernham is one of the most brilliant crew chiefs in NASCAR history. However, new times may not allow for old results.
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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