Performance isn’t issue with Gordon
Photo by Mike Sepsick / Phoenix International Raceway Photo
Jeff Gordon turns laps at Michigan International Speedway. Gordon remains winless 15 races into 2015.
By Steven Ellis
June 18, 2015
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
Jeff Gordon is doing everything right.
He has spent 93 percent of all laps run this season on the lead lap, trailing just Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick in that category. He’s made 1079 passes this season on drivers inside the top-15. That’s fourth overall in the Sprint Cup Series.
But that doesn’t matter if he can’t come home with the victory, and in almost every single race, he’s been silent right at the end.
When the Rainbow Warrior announced during the Sprint Cup off-season that he’d be giving up full-time driving duties at the end of 2015, there was a good mix of emotions. Most fans were sad to see one of the greatest drivers statistically hang up the driving gloves by the time he’s 44 later this year while still racing in a competitive situation. At the same time, longtime supporters were hit with the fact that, since Gordon hasn’t won a title since 2001, there’s a lot of reasons to believe he’d give it his all this year.
So after 15 races, why is he still sitting on the outside looking in?
A year ago, Gordon has 11 top-ten finishes after 15 races, with a win and five top-five showings to his credit. Zoom back to now, where the four-time NASCAR Winston Cup, now Sprint Cup, champion has just two top-five’s, eight top-ten’s and no wins. He’s earned three pole awards already this season, tying last year’s total, which also happened to be the most he’s had since 2008. Even when you take away the fact that his finishes aren’t as great as last year, he’s in tenth place right now.
Photo by Todd Warshaw / NASCAR via Getty Images
But that’s the problem. It’s not because he’s a fan favorite driver, it’s because he struggles to do anything with what he’s given at the end of races. We all heard his frustration near the end of the race in Pocono just a few weeks back, something that was replayed on Fox Sports multiple times throughout the week. He knows there’s an issue. Crew Chief Alan Gustafson knows there’s an issue.
But what is the issue?
It’s hard to pinpoint his failures on just a single cause right now. One thing is for certain: his 11.1 average starting position isn’t to blame. In fact, despite it being lower than his career average of 10.4, it’s still good enough to put him seventh in the series this year.
It’s his 15.5 average finishing position, however, that is a result of poor finishes by the future Hall of Famer. When you look back at his record this year, some of the instances came because of a driver error. Big pit road speeding penalties at both Martinsville and Talladega, for example, took away chances where Gordon should have really been a competitor until the end. At Daytona to start the year, a misjudgment in the draft resulted in him getting involved in the big one on the final lap of the 500.
But how about this? Of the six times Gordon has led this year, which has summed up for a total of 162 laps after 15 races, the 24 car has only finished in the top-ten in one of those races, a tenth place finish at Fontana. He only led three laps in that race.
Finishing with a good result has been a tough task all-season long for Gordon, despite only having one official DNF to start the year. He’s starting off well, with many of his laps lead coming in the early stages of the race. It’s his finishes, though, that have been taking a big hit.
Six times this season, Gordon has finished lower than where he was at the half-way point of the given race, and in the past five races, he’s failed to have an average position during the race inside the top ten. Since the Coca-Cola 600, the first race counted of the past five races, he’s continued to make less and less passes with top-15 cars each race, with Pocono being the only race that saw an increase from the previous race. Now, usually, that can be attributed to being in a good position to win near the end of the race, where there are a lot less cars to pass in the top-15. But when you only post one top ten in that span of races, that’s not really positive.
Of course, he’s had a few good finishes this year. But after getting constantly outrun by teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (not to mention the miraculous runs by Chevy rivals Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick), it probably stings for Gordon.
He knows he has what it takes to run with the big boys. He is, and always has been, one of the fastest drivers on the track. Its minor mistakes in every race (and in many cases, later in the event) that has really stalled their chances to win this year, and getting just one could be a game changer once the season gets hot.
Fortunately for Gordon, the upcoming schedule gives the star a chance to shine. Next up on the docket is Sonoma Raceway, home to one of Jeff’s strongest tracks on the NASCAR circuit. In 22 starts at the track, Gordon has finished first five times, with an average finishing position of eighth place. Gordon has finished runner-up in three of the last four Sonoma races. With the summer heating up, Sonoma gives Gordon a great chance at a victory before heading to Daytona in July, probably the biggest wildcard race before heading to the Chase.
He’s got more than enough chances to record a win in the next 11 races before the Chase, with Bristol, Indianapolis and Watkins Glen still left later in the summer. He’s more than likely going to need a win to stay alive, with six positions still left in the Chase Grid in the final 11 events of the campaign. There’s more pressure than ever for Gordon to pull off a win due to the fact that it is his final shot at the title, so you’d have to assume he’ll put everything on the line in order to do so.
A year ago, during the first Sprint Cup season with the new points system that rewards drivers for winning, Gordon looked to be a favorite to go into Homestead with a chance at the championship, only to have late season run-ins with other drivers along the way. This year, he wants to reverse that result and turn it into his fifth NASCAR championship, but without luck, which hasn’t been on their side this year, Gordon and his crew have a tough task ahead of them.