High hopes for Jeff Gordon

by Monte Dutton

Jeff Gordon’s hometown could be considered Vallejo, Calif., where he was born, or Pittsboro, Ind., where he grew up.

Based on his record there, Indianapolis Motor Speedway is another place where Gordon feels right at home. He has won NASCAR’s annual visit to the Brickyard a record four times. (As an aside, Gordon has won five times at Infineon Raceway, the track closest to his birthplace.)

Gordon’s most recent Indy victory occurred in 2004. In the five races since then, though, Jimmie Johnson has won three times and Tony Stewart twice. Forty-eight races have passed since Gordon’s last victory anywhere. He won at Texas Motor Speedway on April 5, 2009.

Still, a winless Gordon is better than most drivers who have won multiple races this year… literally. Gordon, 38, ranks second in the Sprint Cup point standings, trailing only Kevin Harvick, and has more top-five finishes (10) than any other driver.

“Our team’s been consistently running up front,” said Gordon. “We just haven’t had the car to win or all the pieces as a team to get ourselves into victory lane.

“At times we’ve had the car. For whatever reasons — blame it on me, blame it on incidents, I don’t like to point fingers — but we haven’t gotten to victory lane…. We think we’ve got some things up our sleeve for Indy, but I’m sure that’s what a lot of guys out there are thinking.”

Only five drivers — Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarbrough — have ever won more races at NASCAR’s highest level than Gordon. Three more victories would put him ahead of everyone except Petty and Pearson. But it’s been “82 and holding” ever since the 2009 Texas victory.

Some have speculated that the end of Gordon’s career is near. He disputes this.

“Man, I do [feel old] when I get out of that race car and everything aches,” he said, “but no, I mean, I’m still enjoying the sport very, very much. I feel like I’m way more comfortable with where I’m at in the sport today.

That’s fun. I like all the years of experience that now I get to benefit from.

“The only thing I’d change right now is getting some of those wins back. It’s tough. It’s very competitive. We know we’ve got to pick up the pace.”

Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston (NC) Gazette since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog NASCAR This Week ( features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Monte at nascar_thisweek@yahoo. com. ‘ 2010 King Features Syndicate

Former NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon (right, with team owner Rick Hendricks) is second in the standings despite not winning a race. (John Clark/NASCAR This Week photo)