I sometimes wonder if Jeff Gordon would now have 5 or 6 championships in NASCAR's top series if the Chase format was never introduced in the Cup Series. After Matt Kenseth's runaway championship run in 2003 NASCAR deemed it necessary to tighten up the competition thus leading to the "playoff" format which resets the points standings after the first 26 races heading into the final 10 events. They have truly succeeded in raising the drama and closeness of the points race which has created excitement down to the last race creating situations where several drivers have had the chance of winning the championship as the final laps of the season wind down. But being the points leader especially when your lead is substantial, and then seeing it dissolve after the first 26 races I imagine can be a disheartening affair. So going into this year's Chase Jeff Gordon saw his large points lead reset and heading into New Hampshire his twelfth place competitor was now only 50 points behind. After leading the entire "regular" season in points Gordon wasn't even the top seed as his team mate Johnson who had one more win in the first 26 races became the Chase's top seed as a result of the Chase rules format.
It's been six years since Jeff last raised racing's top prize and I've watched him go through many heart breaking situations in these past years which have kept him from achieving another series title. Mechanical failures, being at the wrong place at the wrong time and getting mixed up in someone else's wreck are just 2 of the contributing factors that have halted Gordon's drive for a 5th title which has become quite elusive.
Even with the tighter Chase format Gordon has put himself in a great position with just 5 races remaining and with consistent strong runs in the first 5 Chase races including back to back wins at Talladega & yesterday's victory at Lowe's Motor Speedway Gordon's drive for 5 has never looked stronger! Next week the series travels to Martinsville, a track where Gordon is stellar at, having the most wins (7) among all active drivers as well as an impressive 7.5 average finish stat which is second to only Jimmie Johnson's 7.2 average finish mark at this grueling .526 mile short track which is shaped like a paperclip. With the exception of Texas Motor Speedway, the rest of the remaining races on the schedule are on tracks where Gordon's average finish in within the top 14 including such favorite tracks as Phoenix and Homestead. Earlier this season Gordon posted his first ever win at Phoenix International Raceway where victory has eluded him in his first 16 races there despite having the second best average finish stat of 8.6 among all active drivers. Again only Jimmie Johnson has a better average finish stat of 7.7 but that being done with 9 fewer starts. With a favorable remaining schedule and a 68 point lead over second place Johnson, 78 point lead over 3rd place Bowyer, and by the time you get to 4th place Tony Stewart that lead balloons up to 198 and gets into the 200's, 300's & 400's as you look further back, Jeff Gordon's drive for a fifth Cup Series title is in great shape. While it's still very premature to call it a comfortable lead at this point, the way that Jeff has been competing this entire season has me feeling very optimistic that he'll capture his 5th championship title! Sometimes it can be rough cheering for your 2 favorite drivers as series defending champion Jimmie Johnson is right there in the mix as well. And seeing him become the first back to back series champion since Gordon did it back in '97 & '98 would be just as awesome! It kind of tears at you at times and their 1st & 2nd finish at Talladega was a dream scenario come true for me! It's just the feeling that I get this year, that it's Gordon's year to triumph. Above is one of my most cherished memorabilia items, Jeff Gordon's autograph which I acquired a few years ago.