COMMENTARY: He has raced with some of the greatest drivers in stock car history. He has been nose to nose with The Intimidator. He helped make Jimmie Johnson a household name. He has four Championships in his 20 year Cup career. Since 1993, Jeff Gordon has been behind the wheel of the No.24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet; winning races and competing for Championships. This season however, something seems different.
With 87 wins in 705 Cup starts spanning over 20 years, Jeff Gordon is one of the best the sport has ever had, but the last two seasons have not been the greatest for Gordon fans, or Gordon himself. Last season, Gordon squeezed himself a spot into the Chase at the last possible moment, edging out Kyle Busch for the last Wild Card spot. In 2012, Gordon had just two wins, one of them being the rain-shortened Pocono race.
Gordon’s other victory was overshadowed by the Championship Celebration with Brad Keselowski at Homestead-Miami to close out the 2012 season. That win was a good way to put a cap on what could easily be called one of Gordon’s worst seasons, ever. With five DNFs and multiple wrecks, it seemed like everything that could possibly happen to a driver on the track happened to Gordon.
With 12 finishes off of the lead lap, it was very unlike Gordon and his team to be struggling in the standings throughout the 2012 season; some also believed that Gordon would miss the Chase for the first time in his career. Until race 26 at Richmond, Gordon hadn’t cracked the top-10 in points, sitting as low as 25th in the standings.
Multiple malfunctions seemed to plague the No.24 team. Blown tires, expired engines and various other mechanical issues sent the team to the pits or the garage at races like Daytona, Darlington and Chicago. Even in Martinsville, where he led over half of the race, a late race crash sent him to a 14th place finish.
While most of Gordon’s issues in 2012 were out of his control, could something else be happening with one of the sports favorite drivers? Could Gordon be running out of steam and nearing the end of his career? In the 16 races so far in 2013, Gordon has four DNFs and currently sits 13th in points. While his points standing is significantly better than it was at this time last season, Gordon still seems to be struggling more than usual.
Hendrick Motorsports owner and founder Rick Hendrick announced this season that he has his eyes on Chase Elliott. In fact, he signed him to a multi-year deal that includes a full-time Nationwide Series run by next season. With a season or two in NASCARs second tier, Elliott will be ready to move to the Cup Series, but where would he go? With Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. filling the other three seats in Hendrick’s fleet, one driver will have to leave or retire for Elliott to move to the Cup Series.
Unfortunately, the seat that is more than likely to be vacated will be the No.24 currently being driven by Gordon. 2016, which is an estimate as to when Elliott could have a full time Sprint Cup Series ride, would give Gordon two more full seasons with the organization that made him the great driver that he is.
Jeff Gordon is one of the most popular drivers in the series and the thought of him not being in the field every weekend is something that most people don’t want to think about. Jeff Gordon made his first Cup start in 1992 with his first full season starting in 1993. With over 20 seasons behind the wheel, Gordon has definitely become a household name among racing families. Unfortunately, I think his time as a full-time driver is growing shorter.
Gordon isn’t quite as competitive as he used to be. He still goes out every weekend and races hard but the level of competition is completely different than it was during his Championship days. With two young children now in his life, Gordon’s mindset isn’t 100% on racing like it used to be. Jeff Gordon will always be one of the greatest drivers to ever hit the track, but his time in the No.24 may just be coming to a close sooner than anybody, especially his fans, wants to see.