By admin | March 23, 2008
Gordon and Johnson look for Martinsville boost
By Richard Allen
In 2007, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon staged a fender banging battle to the finish line in the Goodyâ€™s Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville. Johnson just edged Gordon to claim his third victory in the Sprint Cup Seriesâ€™ first six races.
Little did those watching in person and on television know but that scenario would be played out right down to the final race of the year for both race wins and for the championship. The two Hendrick Motorsports drivers would go on to dominate much of the 2007 season.
At this time last year Gordon had yet to garner a win, but the hard fought second place in that race led in to what would be one of the best season he has experienced in his career. From that point the â€˜Rainbow Warriorâ€™ went on to capture six checkered flags throughout the rest of the year.
Unfortunately for Gordon, his teammate, Johnson, won seven more races after Martinsville, giving him a total of ten victories. Johnson also went on to have an outstanding final 10 races to win his second consecutive title in the Chase for the Championship despite the fact that Gordon actually scored more points over the course of the whole season.
Unfortunately for the rest of the competition, the two teammates turned the Sprint Cup Series into their personal playground. Between the two of them they came only two races shy of winning half the events on the circuit.
In 2008, the two team members will venture to Martinsville hoping the Virginia half-mile track can propel them to another strong run toward the Chase. However, 2008 appears to be much different than 2007 for the former champions.
Last year, one of the two, Johnson, was already on a roll coming into this event. This race only served to solidify his already strong performance.
Gordon had not started the year on such a high note. This event seemed to provide the momentum he needed to get going.
This year, the HMS teammates are hardly on a roll. Granted, at 13th and 14th in the standings it would not be accurate to call the season a disaster, but this year has not yet shown the same promise as last year.
Of the two, Gordon seems to have had the better runs so far, but uncharacteristically, he has not managed to get those good runs to the finish line.
Johnson on the other hand has seemed to struggle, with the exception of the California race where he finished second. In other races his car has hardly looked like that of a team about to have another 10 win season.
Aside from the fact that these two drivers have not been as dominate as in years past, the competition seems to have stepped up as well. Unlike last year there seem to be several teams ready to snatch the banner away from the #24 and #48 teams.
For that matter, Johnson and Gordon are not even dominating their own team. New teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has beaten his mates in four of the first five races.
Joe Gibbs Racing has shown strength in every race so far with their new Toyotas. Carl Edwards won in California and Las Vegas and appeared on his way to another win until mechanical problems sidelined him in Atlanta, while his Roush Fenway Racing teammates, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, have shown signs of being competitive as well. Also, Richard Childress Racing is coming off of a 1-2-3 finish in Bristol.
It would not be a shock to see Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon again battle for the win in Martinsville, but if their performance during the early season is any indication, it appears far less likely that they are on their way to the kind of dominance they showed in 2007.
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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