May 17, 2012
By Nicholas Schwartz
It may seem difficult to think of an athlete having a worse run of it than Tiger Woods, who slumped to another sub-standard finish at The Players this past weekend, but in 2012, Jeff Gordon has him beat.
The four-time champion—widely regarded as one of the best pure drivers in the Sprint Cup Series with an experienced crew and the best resources in the business as a member of Hendrick Motorsports -- has been living a nightmare for the past 11 weeks, and there’s no signs of him waking up any time soon.
At Darlington Raceway, Gordon started the weekend strong, as he has often done this season. The Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet was fast in practice, and qualified 12th. Unsurprisingly, when the green flag flew on Saturday night, it was all downhill from there.
Gordon fell victim to tire troubles at Darlington as many teams do, but just when the No. 24 came to the pits to replace a flat left rear Goodyear, the caution flag flew to trap the No. 24, forcing Gordon to go a lap down. He would become a common sight upon pit road as the rest of the field went racing by, succumbing to another flat tire and finishing the Bojangles’ Southern 500 29 laps down in 35th position. It was the fourth time Gordon has finished worse than 30th-place, not to mention his three finishes in the 20s. To date in 2012, Gordon has exactly two top-10 finishes.
I’ve written in this space before what I thought Gordon had to do to sneak into the Chase -- but that was weeks ago, when Gordon was safely nestled in the top 20 in the points standings. He now sits unceremoniously in 24th position, 170 points off the pace set by Sprint Cup Series leader Greg Biffle, 96 points behind Carl Edwards in 10th position, and 22 points from Jamie McMurray in 20th. He’s mired in the worst stretch of his career at perhaps the worst possible time -- a wide-open era where it seems Jimmie Johnson has loosened his vice-grip on the Sprint Cup trophy and any one of up to 10 or 12 drivers could conceivably make a title run.
For Gordon, the most frustrating aspect of his freefall this year has to be that at just about every track the series has visited, Gordon has had a competitive car that has simply experienced repeated bouts of bad luck.
Whether it’s been a freak mechanical incident (Daytona), the over-eager driving of others in late-race situations (Martinsville), or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time (Richmond), Gordon could likely look at his season thus far and think that, if his luck has swung the other way, he could have two or three wins under his belt already.
Following the wreck that collected Gordon at Talladega and ruined the pole-winning racecar that week, Gordon tweeted: “Fast racecar check, great team check, nothing to show for it check, check, check!!! #canusayfrustrating”
The Chase’s system of drawing those who qualify close together on points means that there is still hope for Gordon to salvage his 2012 season, but with just 15 races now left until the Chase field is locked in after the Fall Richmond race, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to crawl out of a points hole.
For Gordon and other Chase hopefuls floundering around the Wild Card cutoff line—names like Juan Pablo Montoya, McMurray, AJ Allmendinger and Kurt Busch -- the break from points racing could not come at a better time.
If you would like to learn more about Nicholas, please check out his web site at Sports By Schwartz. Nicholas is a Managing editor and sportswriter for The Duke Chronicle at Duke University.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.