For Gordon, sky seems to be the limit Car, crew and driver are dominating as one


A victory last night in the Goody's 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway would give Jeff Gordon five consecutive victories in NASCAR Winston Cup races, a record for the modern era, which began in 1972.

Gordon leads the points race and has eight victories and six poles this year. He has won four times at Bristol, including this year's spring race.

In the wake of The Streak, here are some answers to 10 questions about Gordon, why he is hot now and how far he can go:

1. Why is he winning now?

Gordon has won in any kind of car he has driven -- quarter-midgets, sprint cars, championship dirt cars, the Busch Grand National Series and Winston Cup stock cars. He started driving a car with a big engine when he was 13. He has the talent and now has a team behind him that his worthy of his talent.

Also, people forget that Gordon and crew chief Ray Evernham have been together throughout Gordon's Cup career, which began in 1992.

Some have suggested that the team cheats. But when a driver wins often, wild rumors surface about whether the team is on the up-and-up.

Robert Yates, who owns the car Dale Jarrett drives, believes that a key to Gordon's midseason charge has been his team's figuring out the new Chevy engine better than anyone else.

"They're good and smart," Yates said.

2. How far can he go?

Gordon has the potential to win as many Winston Cup championships as he wants, but whether he breaks Richard Petty's and Dale Earnhardt's record of seven titles is another question. A recurring rumor has Gordon leaving NASCAR to drive Formula One cars. Or Gordon could be the next Fred Lorenzen, who won 26 races before he turned 33. Lorenzen left the sport in 1967 for various reasons. He returned in 1970 at age 36, but never was as competitive.

If Gordon stays in Winston Cup, he will win a lot, but he has little chance to catch Petty's 200 career victories. Gordon would have to win at least 10 races for the next 17 years to have a chance.

3. What about crew chief?

Among NASCAR crew chiefs, Evernham is one of the best -- if not the best. He continually makes the right adjustments to the car during a race.

"Ray and the crew just never give up," Gordon said after coming from well behind to win at Michigan last Sunday. "We don't ever give up until the checkered flag drops."

Evernham's attention to detail might be as important to the team's success as Gordon's driving. After each race, Evernham compiles his notes and notes from the chief mechanic, the engine tuner, the tire specialist and the team engineer into a document of three or four pages.

4. Is Gordon the best ever?

That remains to be seen. Gordon is talented, but Richard Petty won on dirt tracks, short tracks and big tracks at a time when the cars were not as safe, weighed more and did not have power steering. But it is like comparing apples to oranges because Petty was at his prime in a different era.

5. Where are Chevy teams?

Because there always seems to be a lead-dog team outperforming every other team. Five years ago, that Chevy team was Dale Earnhardt's. Gordon's team seems to have everything figured out about the new SB2 engine.

6. Why is Gordon despised?

The group of fans that most despises him are 18- to 35-year-old Southern males, typically Earnhardt fans. Gordon is young, good-looking and does not come from the South. He is cheered more in the Midwest and West than he is in the South or on the East Coast.

For example, at Bristol last August, the public-address announcer could not even finish Gordon's name during a driver introduction before a majority of the crowd began to boo.

But at Indianapolis and Sears Point, he was cheered for victories

in both of those races this season.

7. Can he get Petty's mark?

The schedule is set up in a way that he can chase Richard Petty's record of 10 consecutive wins. Whether he will is another story. He has been winning so much that if someone, such as Rusty Wallace or Dale Earnhardt, is close to him at the end of the race, Gordon is likely to end up in the wall. Remember the bumping between Gordon and Jeff Burton last season in the Southern 500, with Burton admitting that he tried to put Gordon in the wall?

A win last night would be career No. 38, moving Gordon past the late Bobby Isaac into sole possession of 15th place in career victories. The next two races are in Loudon, N.H., and Darlington, S.C., and Gordon has impressive credentials at both tracks.

At Darlington, considered the toughest track on the circuit, Gordon has won the granddaddy of stock-car races -- the Southern 500 -- three years in a row. On Labor Day weekend, he will try to make it four.

That would make seven consecutive victories and move him closer to Petty's record of 10 in a row -- set in the pioneer era when NASCAR staged about 50 races per season.

8. And NASCAR's view?

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.