Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 team are celebrating Mother’s Day 2014 after a victory in the 5-Hour Energy 400. The win was the first of the season for Gordon and it allowed to him extend his lead in the point standings on the rest of the field. More importantly, the win at Kansas essentially guarantees Gordon’s place in the 2014 chase. So now the question has to be asked; is this going to be the year that Gordon wins his fifth championship?
Gordon won his last championship in 2001, at the time the circuit was not yet named Sprint Cup. The ‘Drive For Five’ began in 2002, not even the most hardcore Gordon fans would have imagined that it would still be going on in 2014. Since 2001, Gordon has only come close to winning his fifth championship a few times. In 2004 he finished 3rd in the standings, in 2007 he finished 2nd and in 2009 he finished 3rd again. The last four seasons he has not finished inside of the top-five.
So what makes 2014 different?
The difference this season is that Gordon isn’t racing like the driver we have seen the last few years, instead he is racing like the driver we saw over a decade ago. Through 11 races this season Gordon has eight top-10 finishes and five top-five finishes to go along with his win. The last time that he had eight top-10 finishes in the first 11 races was 2009 and the time before that was 2007. In both of those seasons Gordon contended for the championship. Even during his four championship seasons Gordon never had a start through 11 races where he amassed more than eight top-10’s through the first 11 races.
Although the top-10 finishes are impressive, what might be more impressive are his other three finishes. Gordon ran 13th in the Auto Club 400 and then 12th in the STP 500. The only time this season that he has finished worse than 13th was when he got caught up in ‘the big one’ at Talladega and finished 39th. Gordon’s average finish of 9.1 in 2014 is his best since 2007 and his second best since his last championship in 2001.
Given the new chase format, winning a championship this year is a lot easier than in previous years. This is thanks to the fact that when the circuit reaches Homestead for the final race of the season, four drivers will all have an equal shot at the title. In 15 career races at Homestead; Gordon has one win, seven top-five finishes and 11 top-10 finishes. Gordon has finished 6th or better (including his one win) in five of the last seven races that he has run at Homestead.
The chase is still a ways away and there is still a lot of racing to be done. That being said, 11 races is a decent sample size to judge a driver on. If Gordon is able to duplicate his success through the first 1/3 of the season than he will most likely find himself in the final four at Homestead. If Gordon were to reach Homestead in that position, anything could happen and one of those things could very well be him winning his fifth championship and first ‘Sprint Cup’ championship.