Making the Grade: A Preview of the Probable 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Top 12 (Part 5 of 12)
Have you experienced a rough stretch in life where it just seemed like everything that could go wrong went, well....completely horribly?
In the case of Jeff Gordon and his No. 24 AARP Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Max Chevy team, it didn't matter if they were at a track where they had success in the past or a venue that had been cruel to them.
Motor failures, cut tires, accidents either of their own doing or as a result of being collected in someone else's mess, 2012 was a year to forget on the track for the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.
Off the track, it was a great year for the Vallejo, CA native, as he won the prestigious Myers Brothers Award as well as the Heisman Humanitarian Award, with both honors earned because of Gordon's charitable work with children and the elderly both through his Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation and his work with the AARP Drive to End Hunger. To say the least, the awards are testaments of the successful driver's heart and passion with life as well as those he's helped over the years.
There were some highlights for Gordon with his season last year, including a brilliant "inside line" pass on what was the ultimate restart of the rain-shortened Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway and his fuel-saving victory in the season finale race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Those wins displayed Gordon's will to still race competitively and with the checkered flag in mind, along with stellar pit strategy with crew chief Alan Gustafson.
Of course, there was the brawl and overly mentioned feud between Gordon and Clint Bowyer, with some "rubbin' is racin'" moments at both Martinsville races and the (so far) most recent retailiation incident over at Phoenix International Raceway last November. Gordon avenged for the times in which Bowyer roughed him up by collecting Bowyer into the wall between turns three and four, also taking out Aric Almirola and Joey Logano.
That move somewhat polarized the legendary racer, with some siding with the Gordon and No. 24 camp while others felt it was a "chump" move. Regardless, their on-track encounters will certainly carry over into this season, but as to when the next chapter of their rivalry will ensue remains to be seen.
If anything, it will be interesting to see how Bowyer and Gordon race each other (which will be often) and if it's just a mind game that'll take place or if either driver legit has bad blood still with one another as racers.
As far as what to expect out of Gordon in 2013, it all depends on how well they perform with their new Chevrolet SS and generally, it also rides on whether or not they'll get the handle of the Gen-6 racecar. Although Gordon is still a winning racer, provided he scores consistent top-five finishes by the plenty, it just seems like the No. 24 team has been a reliable sixth through 10th place points-finishing team.
It's not saying that Gordon has lost his edge as a driver, because his determination to win was displayed in the Phoenix incident with Bowyer. However, the competition is stout and while Gordon is a great driver, he's surrounded by equally amazing talent in the form of Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Hendrick Motorsports' depth of driving talent is as strong as it's ever been and until Gordon's willing to push the envelope harder in terms of holding his own and taking riskier chances as a driver, he'll always finish in the safe places on the track and in the points.
The potential is there for Gordon to be a top-five finishing driver in this year's points. For now, it's truly looking like another good, solid year but one where the questions about Gordon's true drive to win titles will be brought up in the offseason.
Look for Gordon to be strong at the short tracks and perhaps make some noise at the intermediate tracks. Come to think of it, much like the Bowyer preview piece, it may be a case where a writer who shall not be named could get it completely wrong as far as points placement is concerned with a driver and team that's tremendously strong on any given race weekend.