Jeff Gordon Puts Field on Notice

by Monte Dutton

Lost perhaps in the knowledge that Jimmie Johnson has won five straight Sprint Cup championships is the fact that Jeff Gordon has won four.

Perhaps by winning at Phoenix International Raceway, Gordon served notice that he might just equal his Hendrick Motorsports’ teammate this year. Sixty-six races had passed between the 82nd and 83rd victories of Gordon’s career.

Gordon, 39, won four championships in his first nine seasons but hasn’t won any in the nine years since his most recent championship (2001).

“There was a lot of pressure on us, not just this year… but going back the last 66 races that we have not had a win,” said Gordon, “so there was a lot of pressure…. You hear it from the media, you hear it from the fans, and it’s hard to ignore that.

“I guess every race-car driver knows that there’s going to be that time in their life when they are not going to go to victory lane again, and you don’t know when that time is going to come. I was so hoping that time was not for me now.”

Gordon hadn’t gone away. He was just missing in victory lane for quite a while.

Though Gordon has never won a champion ship under the so-called Chase format, he made the Chase in six of its seven years, finishing second to Johnson in 2007 and third in 2009 (to Johnson) and 2004 (to Kurt Busch). Still, Gordon was winless in 2008 and 2010, winning once in 2009.

“I felt like I still have it in me,” he said.

“I know how passionate I am about it, but things have changed in the sport. The cars have changed. Tires have changed. Competition has changed.

“So, when you go through a streak of without winning, you think, okay, is it me or what is it? Days like [this] allow you to gain that confidence in yourself, just keep doing what you’re doing, what’s gotten you victory lane in the past, keep giving that good information, and when the tools are around you, and the chemistry is there throughout the whole team and good decisions are made, days like [this] will happen.”

Simple as that.

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 ‘© 2011 King Features Syndicate

Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon broke a streak of 66 races without a victory at the recent Phoenix race. (John Clark/NASCAR This Week photo)