Two wins in the last four races should more than do the talking for him. But here’s why you should be scared of Jeff Gordon if you’re not, well, Jeff Gordon.
He hasn’t been this good in years. Not, in fact, since his runner-up points finish in 2007 and, before that, his absolute dominance in the late 1990s.
The Hendrick Motorsports veteran has been lights out in the months of July and August for the most part, save for two sub-25th finishes that admittedly drive his statistics down further than they could be. Thank a dismal race at Watkins Glen International, for starters.
But looking past the occasional hiccup, Gordon’s been one of the best in NASCAR this spring and summer, retaining the points lead for much of the season. He’s been in the lead exiting 15 of the 23 races, or 65 percent overall.
So, sure, maybe neither you nor anyone else out there needs to be convinced of his prestige in 2014. Give some props to Hendrick, which has won eight of the last 13 races in the series, but the four-time champion is finally showing the form that made him both beloved and hated by many over a decade ago.
But that’s what to take away here: he’s showing that form again.
The form that won him three championships in four years, and four in seven.
Somewhere, his rivals should be whispering, “Uh-oh.”
Entering the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Gordon carries a 9.8 average finish. Compared to his other finishing totals, that’s his lowest since 2007, when he nearly won the title, and then since 1998. That’s right – 1998.
In fact, when Gordon scores an average finish 10th or better, not counting close-but-no-cigar numbers like 10.2 in 2009, he wins the championship far more often than not – and when he doesn’t, he’s second.
It started in 1995, Gordon’s first championship season, when he hit an average of 9.5 on his way to that first title. The next season was nearly the same, with average finish the same but overall result – second – slightly different. He followed up with a 9.6 for 1997′s championship run and a stunning 5.7 in 1998.
The only time he’s been on the kind of tear on which he’s been lately, though was 2007, with his 7.3 average finish for another runner-up spot.
That’s not to say Gordon’s 2014 will end up as tremendous as certain seasons prior. Even if he finished in the top 5 every race to finish the year, he’d have 21 total – a number he’s topped twice, in 1997 and ’98. There’s also very little likelihood he’ll get his average finish down to 5.7 like he did in his title season of 1998.
But even if Gordon doesn’t rattle off top 5s in every race, just managing, say, 17 – the amount of top 5s in his 1995 championship – would be adequate.
Mention should also be called to his win total – three – that equals Gordon’s best since 2011. The thing he arguably needs is more wins, not just because of past results but also due to the current Chase climate, which values wins and top finishes to enter the playoffs and once the knockout rounds occur (that is, unless everyone else is losing, too). In his four title years, he’s won at least six times, twice launching into double digits overall.
If the last four races have been any indication, six wins in a season seems tangible. With Hendrick on a tear, red hot with basically every team but the No. 5, the golden horseshoe that usually benefits Jimmie Johnson is suddenly spreading to Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. There’s no sign of slowing down from the Hendrick organization, and with eight wins in 13 races, it seems like the next 13 could be more of the same.
Let’s say the organization rattles off eight more wins. Gordon will undoubtedly snag a portion of those, kickstarting his win total even further. Suddenly, those six- and seven-win seasons of his past, where he either won or finished second in the standings, are more real than ever before.
And as long as that average finish doesn’t dip above 10, you’re going to be talking about him at season’s end. Maybe even at Las Vegas in November.