You have heard it numerous times. You can not win a championship in race one but you can lose it. Jeff Gordon may have done just that when his car crashed into the wall at Chicagoland Speedway following a hung throttle.
Gordon started 19th on Sunday and was running 4th when Gordon relayed the following information to his team. “We’re done, Throttle stuck.”
Suddenly 187 laps into the first Chase race and already a driver may have been eliminated from contention. Just last weekend Gordon raced his way into the NASCAR Chase. His second place finish at Richmond earned him a spot as a wild car participant. A week later Gordon is the twelfth man on a twelve man list.
It may not have been his fault but Jeff Gordon may already be out of the NASCAR title picture. Currently trailing by 47 points, Gordon would need a string of good luck to break out coupled with some poor finishes by those ahead of him. How bad was Gordon’s day at Chicagoland? He is 21 points behind Matt Kenseth who is eleventh.
I can not see Gordon making up this ground. Bad luck, poor decisions, and just a wealth of other talented drivers are all things he would have to overcome.
Gordon finished 35th on the day and totaled 9 points towards the championship.
Last season Tony Stewart won five races which helped him win the Sprint Cup title but his worst finish over the final ten races was a 25th place run at Dover. His 2005 title saw a worst finish of 25th at Charlotte and even then he earned bonus points for leading laps.
Jimmie Johson won five Sprint Cup titles from 2006-2010. During that span he finished outside the top-twenty five just two times. (Loudon in 2006, Texas in 2009) Those finishes were over come by a slue of wins and top-fives, something Gordon will desperately need.
When the Chase started for the 2004 season it was won by Kurt Busch. During the ten race run Busch recorded a top-ten each with the exception of Atlanta where he blew a motor. Despite six top-five finishes, Busch only won the title by 8 points; and that was under the old scoring system.
No matter which season you look at finishing poorly at any race can cost a team a championship. Over the course of eight seasons of the Chase these eventual championship winners combined for just five finishes outside the top-twenty five. Only three of those finishes were worse then the 35th place finish of Gordon on Sunday.
When interviewed after the race Gordon said “I’m fine,” and noted that “We were having a great day. Who knows what we could have done with them at the end.”
Gordon may have just been talking about the end of the race but he easily could have been talking about the end of the season.