When the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season wraps up next month at Homestead-Miami Speedway, last Sunday's race at Kansas might be one that'll sting Jeff Gordon and his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont Chevy team.
After all, they came into this season feeling like it'd be their year. Sure, every racer and team enters every season with high hopes, but for a driver that's won the championship four times, losing doesn't get any easier.
Heading into this season's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, Gordon was the odds-on favorite by most critics in the garage area.
Next to Brad Keselowski, he had the most momentum of all the top-12 racers, coming off a string of four consecutive top-six finishes which saw two third places and a win at Atlanta in addition to victories at Phoenix and Pocono.
It was about as good as it got for Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson, compiling a season that was like the old days of the No. 24 team.
That was about the high-water mark for Gordon, as he relegated from third in the points standings to a lowly 10th heading into Saturday night's race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
How did the mighty fall so quickly? Witness:
- The Chase opener at Chicagoland resulted in Gordon struggling with an ill-handling Chevy that ran out fumes, placing in 22nd.
- Loudon was like the eye of the hurricane, where they caught a nice sunny break with a fourth-place finish.
- Dover wasn't exactly great or terrible, as he placed 12th in an otherwise forgetable race for the No. 24 team.
- Last Sunday at Kansas, Gordon ran in the top-5 virtually all afternoon long before his motor expired just laps from the finish.
While 47 points may not sound like a lot of ground to make up, consider the fact that the point differential between the race winner and last place finisher is at least 43 markers.
In other words, he'll need plenty of help if he wants to even have a shot at this year's title.
As for the time being, Gordon doesn't sound exactly sound bitter about his fate for the remainder of the Chase - be it a miracle run at the title or indeed, a season where he looks to next year for the Cup.
"Even though coming in (this year) I thought this was our year, maybe it's just a way for us to learn and be even better prepared and next year it will be our year," Gordon said per Tom Sorenson's article from newsobserver.com.
Last Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 was a microcosm of Gordon's year, where a promising start and strong performance were derailed by a late poor restart and a broken motor, resulting in a 34th-placeDNF at Kansas.
Moving forward, there are some silver linings with their dark Chase prospects.
First, they now have nothing to lose for the rest of the year, as they can race as aggressively as they want.
Of course, they don't want to blow up another motor, but they can take chances with pit strategies during any moment of the race.
Then there's the driver, who can drop the hammer, trade some paint, and know that his only goal in mind is to win races.
Saturday night's Bank of America 500 is the next best shot at winning this season and it comes at a track where Gordon has visited Victory Lane on five different occasions.
Most recently, he won at Charlotte in October of 2007, which was his first win at the 1.5-mile track since the fall race in 1999.
A victory this Saturday night may not completely heal the wounds from Kansas, but it could very well mean that the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevy team is ready to move forward and do the one thing that the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis often said:
"Just win, baby."