News & Media


Recent slump has Gordon's competitive fire raging

January 27, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- Four-time Cup champion is winless since '09 and looking for right combination

After averaging nearly six wins a season during the first 15 years of his Cup career, Jeff Gordon has won just once since 2008. How could a driver who seemed a lock for 100 victories -- and perhaps even eclipsing the championship totals of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt -- not that long ago suddenly lose the ability to close the deal with the race on the line?

During the NASCAR media tour's stop at Hendrick Motorsports on Wednesday, Gordon said sometimes it's about facing down those fears, fears that crop up in a driver's mind every time he gets in a winless slump.

"I know that I've still got what it takes but I can't do it on my own, just like a crew chief can't do it on his own, like a team can't do it without a good engine. We can't do it without a good pit crew. It takes teamwork. And when all those things line up, like they have for us in the past, great things happen."

--JEFF GORDON

"You always fear," Gordon said. "When will the next race win come? When will the next championship come, or will it come? Having some of that fear is good. It drives you, because if you fear it, that means you want to prevent it. In order to do that, you've got to work really hard."

The differences between winning streaks and losing streaks sometimes hinge on the littlest things, Gordon said.

"Most of the time, I go back to how we won those races and what it took, and it took just total commitment, a lot of hard work, chemistry among the team -- which you can't just create," Gordon said. "You can't just pluck a guy here and put him in a place and get instantaneous chemistry. It doesn't always work that way.

"When Ray [Evernham] and I were together, that kind of chemistry and just the way things went, it was just magic in some ways. And we were just fortunate to come together and make that work."

Gordon glanced across the room, where five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was holding court.

"That's the same way I look at Jimmie and the No. 48 team," Gordon said. "They have been able to create that and call it smart people, putting the right people in place, or you can call it luck. Whatever you want to call it, but they're a great team with a lot of chemistry. And they work really hard. And that's what we have to do to get back on top."

Gordon will have a new crew chief for 2011, courtesy of the wholesale shuffle initiated by owner Rick Hendrick in an effort to get all four of his teams to a competitive level. Gone is Steve Letarte. In his place is Alan Gustafson, most recently on the pit box for Mark Martin.

"Going back to Steve and that No. 24 team, [they're a] great group of guys, very hard-working guys," Gordon said. "There were just a few little things with the chemistry that we're missing. I don't think it's anything that is not known to us. We got it. We communicate. We talk about it and try to understand it and try to make it better. Now this is the next step in trying to make it better."

Even though his last win came at Texas early in the 2009 season, Gordon doesn't believe there's anything wrong with his team. And in his opinion, fine-tuning the operation is much more palatable than making wholesale fixes.

"I feel like you keep making small changes here and there, tweaking to try to get it," Gordon said. "We've been close. In 2007, we were close. Maybe 2004, we were close. So the frustrating part was we were close but didn't quite have it.

"We weren't really good enough and our goal is to be good enough to where we can go out there and get it. In some ways, I say, 'Yeah, where did it go?' But most of the time, I say we just don't have what it takes to be there. The competition's greater. We've got to be better."

Gordon will be 39 in August, but he wanted to make it clear that his skills haven't eroded, that starting a family hasn't dulled his competitive edge, that he still wants to win as desperately as he did when he was young and single and just starting out in the sport.

Still, there is the rare time when he begins to doubt himself.

"Some days. Not very often," Gordon said. "And what helps me get through that is when we go out and have a really strong race like we had at Vegas last year, like at Texas. Where the car was right, the pit crew was right, the adjustments we made that day were right, and so we didn't change anything those days. We just did everything right.

"The problem is, we didn't maintain that throughout the season and we didn't put ourselves in position to capitalize on those opportunities to get the wins to create the chemistry and confidence to keep that going all year long. And that to me is what a really, really strong team does."

Gordon has no doubt that his team has the potential to be one of the best in the garage, week-in and week-out. And perhaps a win to snap the drought will open up the floodgates and allow Gordon to make a regular return to Victory Lane, much like he did 82 previous times.

"I know that I've still got what it takes but I can't do it on my own, just like a crew chief can't do it on his own, like a team can't do it without a good engine," Gordon said. "We can't do it without a good pit crew. It takes teamwork. And when all those things line up, like they have for us in the past, great things happen. And I look throughout the garage area, and that's really the case."