There are some words and phrases that simply don’t fit together, things like “Rush Limbaugh and open-minded discussion” or “Ellen Degeneres and lunch at Chik-Fil-A.”
For race fans, one such line often uttered during the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) has been particularly jarring: “Jeff Gordon is really unlucky.”
Gordon, after all, is synonymous with winning. Since entering NSCS competition full-time in 2003, Gordon has literally become the face of modern NASCAR, winning four championships and 86 races, placing him third on the all-time win list behind Richard Petty and David Pearson.
Most of us have lived through those trying time when our favorite athletes start to slip somewhat in their performance, maybe try to hang on a little too long before retirement. Even in racing, where athletes have longer careers than in most other sports, there comes a time to hand the wheel off to the younger guys.
Jeff Gordon is not immune to this. Inarguably one of the greatest drivers of all time, recent years have seen him taken to school time and again by his own teammate and friend, Jimmie Johnson, who has won five championships in the past six seasons. Some have speculated that perhaps Gordon’s days of dominance are done.
Not so fast, naysayers; Gordon is smart, has a great working relationship with crew chief Alan Gustafson, and has certainly not forgotten how to drive. When an accident took out Johnson and several other frontrunners in the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway on August 5, Gordon seized the opening and eventually the day, maneuvering his way to the front just minutes before the race was called for rain.
The win, Gordon’s first of the season, moved him up to 13th in the overall driver standings and gave him possession of the second wild card spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which begins in only six weeks.
“It’s been a very interesting year, to say the least … we’ve had some trying times,” he said after the race. “To see this race unfold the way it did certainly makes up for a lot of those would have, could have, should haves this year. Things are coming together at the right time. The attitude of this team is that we don’t ever give up. We keep fighting.
“It’s nice to know that things can still go our way.”
Rain literally puts a damper on everything at a speedway, and Pocono Raceway was its latest victim, as downpours forced a late race start and an early finish. Tragically, the excitement of the day was marred by a lightning strike that occurred in the parking lot after the race, killing one fan and injuring several others.
The win was significant to Gordon not only because it moved him into championship contention, but for a far more personal reason; it marked his first Victory Lane celebration with his wife Ingrid, daughter Ella and son Leo in attendance.
“Today was an amazing victory experience, probably one of the best in my career because with the rain, the lightning, the wind blowing sideways, everything going on, you know, I was just so excited to be able to have my family here. It’s the first time I’ve had all of them here for a victory. That experience to me today means so much more than anything else,” he said. “Even my wife, she’s not been able to experience all those wins, those multiple-win seasons and stuff. I want her to be able to feel what it’s like. I know how much it means to her.
“Ella is getting to the age where it’s exciting. Leo was able to hold up his finger, No. 1; that was cool. This is a cool day. This is one that I’m not going to forget.”