Gordons Title Hopes Teetering
October 8, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
And this time, Gordon just might not have enough time to recover.
Gordon’s engine problems – one of several by Hendrick Motorsports teams on Sunday – left him with an extremely disappointing 42nd-place finish in the EA Sports 500, thus dropping the four-time champ into a tie for sixth place with Matt Kenseth in the Winston Cup standings.
After winning the previous week at Kansas Speedway, he lost nearly 100 points in the standings and is now 201 points behind leader Tony Stewart with just six races remaining.
“That’s been our misfortune all year long,” Gordon said. “We can’t seem to get back-to-back great finishes and wins and kind of carry the momentum. This is a big bummer.
“It seems like once we get something going our way we can’t back it up. Either a problem or a crash happens. When the fortune’s there, we’re going to be on top.”
Coming into Sunday’s race, Gordon trailed Jimmie Johnson by just 109 points, and it looked early on as though Gordon would close the gap even further as he spent a lot of time out front, giving his fans a beacon of hope in the title chase.
Gordon actually led 27 of the first 120 laps, and a second straight trip to victory lane wasn’t out of the question. On Lap 125, however, his engine expired while running 13th, and his championship aspirations took a major hit.
“That thing was pretty strong; I was having a lot of fun,” Gordon said. “I could go to the back and come right back to the front. Man, I was just having a ball. My guys were just cranking out great stops, but that’s unfortunate.”
It wasn’t just Gordon’s engine that went south on Sunday. Almost the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization, plus a couple of teams that buy their engines from Hendrick Motorsports, unbelievably suffered the same fate.
Teammate Joe Nemechek’s engine soured on Lap 155, and he finished 39th. Teammate Terry Labonte’s motor went on Lap 164, and he finished 38th. Johnson’s problems were of a different nature, but he wound up finishing 37th.
MBV Motorsports teams – that of Ken Schrader and Johnny Benson – also had engine problems. Benson finished 40th and Schrader 41st.
“I guess it’s just a little problem they ran into on this run,” Schrader said. “We’ve got Hendrick engines and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I’m very happy with them.
But, you abuse those parts so bad that, every now and then, one of them breaks. One of those parts broke (Sunday).”
For Gordon, the engine failure could spell disaster. While he’s capable of coming back to win the title, it’s not likely. Coming from behind to win a championship isn’t exactly his strong suit. He’s more comfortable when leading the championship race at this point.
Gordon took the lead from Dale Jarrett with 16 races remaining last season and never lost it. The highest he’s reached in the points race this year was second, in early September, after his second consecutive victory, at Darlington.
Ironically, engine failure then doomed him the following week at Richmond and he lost two spots in the standings. He then finished 14th at New Hampshire and 37th at Dover, and he was relegated back to fifth.
The victory at Kansas brought Gordon back into contention, but then the Talladega debacle has set him back again.
The Winston Cup Series returns to one of Gordon’s favorite tracks this weekend – Lowe’s Motor Speedway – for Sunday’s UAW-GM Quality 500. Gordon has four victories and seven poles at LMS, but only one of those victories has come in the fall event.
He’ll need a strong run again at Lowe’s to have any chance at all at sitting at the head table in New York again in December.