Good Ol' Boys - NASCAR

Don't Look In The Rear View Mirror
Jeff Gordon's coming

By Doug Belliveau
July 27, 2000

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Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt and others may want to think twice about looking in their rear view mirrors during the rest of the season. If they do sneak a peek, they will be seeing red. They will also see yellow, green and two shades of blue, all on the same car. You see, the man who everyone figured just faded away is now back in town. Without fanfare, Jeff Gordon has quietly moved into eighth place in the standings. In the past few weeks, he has shown that once again he could be challenging for the championship. And for the top NASCAR drivers, that's like seeing Jack Nicholson at the door saying, "Honey, I'm home".

I must be honest and admit I am a Jeff Gordon fan. As I write this article, I'm wearing a tee shirt with the 24 car Jurassic Park paint scheme from a few years ago. I've been very impressed with the way Jeff has handled himself the past two seasons, when he hasn't dominated the circuit. I'm also a fan of other NASCAR drivers and of racing in general. So I can be objective enough to sympathize with people who are not Gordon fans. I grew up in New York State, where you affirmed your baseball allegiance to either the Yankees or Metz. Everyone in my family was a Met fan, and we despised the Bronx Bombers. Guess who's won three of the past four World Series? As painful as it is to admit, it is the Yankees that have been making a run at a dynasty. And that's exactly what Jeff Gordon did in the mid-1990's, winning three championships in four years.

You may be thinking that I'm overly biased to suggest that Jeff Gordon may make a run at the championship this year. Maybe so, but look at the numbers before you react. Gordon resides in eighth place, 307 points behind the leader, Bobby Labonte. With 15 races remaining, Jeff would have to make up about 20 points per race to get to the top. Over the past five races, he has averaged 157 points per race, which is 15 points per race more than Labonte. During that period, Gordon has rattled off five top-ten finishes and handily outscored all of the top-ten drivers except for Dale Jarrett. And his best races may be yet to come.

The next four races are at Indianapolis, Watkins Glen, Michigan and Bristol. In his sub-par 1999 season, Jeff finished third, first, second and fourth at these venues. He knows what it takes to win on these tracks, and is likely to continue that winning trend.

I usually cringe when a baseball or football team owner buys the contract of a free agent late in the season to help the ball club win games down the stretch. More often than not, the arrival of a new player can disrupt the chemistry of the team. Last season, that's essentially what happened in the Gordon camp. The crew chief is like a quarterback, critical to the team's success. He coordinates and oversees everything from the building of the engine to the split-second timing of pit stops. With the departure of Ray Evernham last year, Gordon had his worse point standings finish since his rookie year.

Could it be that the Rainbow Warrior team has finally gelled with Robbie Loomis at the helm? Time will tell, but I boldly predict that Jeff will be sitting in the top-three at the end of this year. He even has an outside shot at bringing home his fourth championship, if Jarrett ever slows down his torrid pace. And what about next year? It could be that Jeff Gordon will be the one looking in his rear-view mirror in 2001. Damn those Yankees! 

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