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Year in Review: 2012 will undoubtedly be a year to remember for Gordon

December 05, 2012, Joe Menzer,

Year in Review: 2012 will undoubtedly be a year to remember for Gordon

For many Sprint Cup drivers, a season comes down to one defining moment.

For Jeff Gordon's wild 2012 season, it really came down to three -- and they were as varied as the up-and-down and up again nature of his season itself.

"When that was over and they told me that I was in the Chase, that we made it, I was ecstatic. I was going nuts."


Jeff Gordon

2012 Statistics
WinsFirst 26Final 10
Laps Led443125
Avg. Start13.311.8
Avg. Finish14.812.2

First off, let's get the numbers out of the way. Gordon won two races and made the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the seventh consecutive season and for the eighth time in 10 seasons since the Chase was introduced in 2004. But because of early-season difficulties he and crew chief Alan Gustafson traced mostly to horrendous luck, he narrowly averted missing the Chase for the first time since 2005 -- when its participants totaled only 10 (instead of the 12 drivers who now qualify) -- and Gordon finished 11th in points. And because of a late-season dustup with Clint Bowyer on the next-to-last lap in the next-to-last race of the season, when

Gordon admitted he picked a poor time to retaliate for sins he argued Bowyer committed against him earlier, Gordon threw away an impressive Chase comeback and ended up a rather disappointing 10th in points despite winning the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Gordon said the win at Homestead in the season finale served as a microcosm of 2012 in the No. 24 Chevrolet.

It's like our whole season wrapped up in one week," said Gordon, who admitted he struggled in the aftermath with his decision to deliberately wreck Bowyer at Phoenix, which led to a Chase-wrecking penalty of 25 points and a $100,000 fine for himself. "It's definitely been emotional."

But if the win at Homestead was the final defining moment of Gordon's season and the brouhaha with Bowyer was the second one leading up to it, the first and perhaps truest defining moment for the four-time champion came in the regular-season finale at Richmond in September. Gordon entered the race needing to finish 12 spots in front of Kyle Busch to steal the final spot in the Chase -- and after struggling most of the night, even falling one lap down at one point, he drove like a champ down the stretch to finish second to race winner Bowyer, of all people.

It was an incredible display of perseverance, determination and sheer driving ability that showed the NASCAR world Gordon still has it at age 41. Even Bowyer was impressed at the time, yelling into his team radio shortly after taking the checkered flag: "What about Gordon? He was terrible most of the night!"

Even though he finished second behind Bowyer, Gordon could not have been more pleased that rainy night, when showers interrupted the race on three different occasions.

"I felt like we won the race," Gordon said. "When that was over and they told me that I was in the Chase, that we made it, I was ecstatic. I was going nuts."

The effort and final result at Richmond was somewhat necessary to validate a season in which Gordon at that point had won one rain-shortened race at Pocono that lasted only 98 laps. He required a summer hot streak covering 12 races, culminating at Richmond, during which he finished sixth or better nine times to rally from 22nd in points to make the Chase.

What transpired after that should have come as no surprise. An accident took him out of the Chase-opening race at Chicagoland, relegating him to a 35th-place finish that put him on the hard comeback trail once again. He had climbed back to sixth in the standings and had his sights set on fifth or possibly even fourth before the debacle at Phoenix.

In the end, Gordon took the blame for and apologized -- sort of -- for what transpired with Bowyer. But he also said it sent a message to the rest of the Sprint Cup garage.

"Throughout the last couple of years, I think the one thing I maybe haven't done is show the fire and passion that I have inside me that I still want to win races and win championships," Gordon said. "I think while I would have liked to have gone about it differently [in the Bowyer incident], I think it did show that I still have that fire and that passion inside of me in a big way."

Watch all of Gordon's highlights from 2012 and flip through his year in photos below.