Jeff Gordon, others look to end winless streaks
Was anyone really surprised when Jeff Gordon displayed his disgust at the end of Monday’s Martinsville Sprint Cup bash?
Or that Matt Kenseth flat out punted the No. 24 car in an attempt to steal the point? Or that Gordon retaliated?
It was quite clear that neither of these NASCAR Cup champions has lost his drive or determination.
Sure, it’s been eons since Wonderboy or Matt the Brat challenged the establishment at their local tracks, regions or on the Cup tour. With time, the tables have turned. The youngsters are now gunning after them.
Whether it’s the sanctioning body’s newly relaxed penal system coupled with a, “Boys, have at it” mentality or the encouragement for competitors to police themselves, a new era of NASCAR has arrived. And Gordon and Kenseth, each suffering from winless droughts, refuse to sit idly by on the sidelines and be dominated by the next class of contenders such as Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin or Kyle Busch.
But Gordon and Kenseth are not alone when it comes to elevating their drive. Here’s a list of veterans in desperate need of a victory and the most likely venue where each can turn the corner.
1) Jeff Gordon — Gordon didn’t seem too perturbed when he gave away the win at Las Vegas to Johnson, but after losing two more races to his teammate this season, it appears his attitude has changed. Yes, it’s been 35 races since Gordon’s last win at Texas, but fortunately, the tour returns to the Lone Star State in two weeks where his average finish is 15.1. Phoenix, where Cup returns to action on April 10, has also been a solid track for "Four-time." But in recent years, the one-miler in the desert has favored Hamlin, Johnson and Mark Martin. Gordon has led the second highest number of laps (324) this season — it’s just a matter of time before he leads the last lap.
2) Matt Kenseth — Kenseth appears to have renewed confidence with crew chief Todd Parrott calling the shots from the pit box. Parrott has rallied the crew and the driver, making the No. 17 team a threat wherever they compete — a stark departure from last year’s spiral which ignited at Vegas. Before Kenseth, 38, tangled with Gordon on Monday, his average finish for the season was 5.2. With the tour rolling into Texas in two weeks — where Kenseth’s 9.3 average finish is his second-best at any track — expect the former winner to be a favorite when the flag falls.
3) Greg Biffle — Biffle surprised himself with a 10th-place finish at Martinsville this week, but he also became the only driver on the tour that has posted six consecutive top 10s this season. Similar to Kenseth, Biffle, 39, simply didn’t have the equipment last season to compete against the Hendrick contingent. However, he was consistent enough to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup and has shown a similar trend this season. Still, it’s been 50 races since Biffle outran his Roush teammates at Dover in June nearly two years ago. The good news is Dover was rescheduled for May this season — six races from now. But don’t count the Biff out at Darlington, where he’s tamed the track twice and led 117 laps there last May before tires issues thwarted his attack.
4) Jeff Burton — There’s no doubt that Burton had the car to beat on Monday. Burton had already nudged his nose into the inside line of Hamlin when he was forced to back out with a cut tire 15 laps before the finish and rallied back to 20th. The Richard Childress Racing cars showed a resurgence last summer but it was too late for any of the drivers to make the Chase. That won’t be the case this season. Burton, 42, coupled with Todd Berrier has produced tremendous results. Their communication on the radio is methodical. With upcoming stops at Phoenix, Texas, Darlington and Charlotte, it won’t be long before Burton busts that 47-race winless streak.
5) Dale Earnhardt Jr. — It’s been 63 races since Earnhardt visited Victory Lane at Michigan on Father’s Day. And Junior never sniffed the Chase Zone last season. While there’s still a ways to go with finding the proper balance between Earnhardt and crew chief Lance McGrew, the No. 88 Chevrolet appears to be moving in the right direction by taking the rough days and salvaging decent finishes. Still, his second-place finish at Daytona was expected. For Earnhardt, battling back for seventh at Bristol, even though it’s where he has his best career average finish, was valiant. Earnhardt should be a lock at Talladega, where he’s earned five of his 18 career Cup wins. But a good indicator of the team’s progress will be the next two weeks at Phoenix or Texas, two tracks where he‘s been victorious in the past.