“The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading,” and I must unload about why the Contender Round will put the ball in Jeff Gordon’s court.
The motto for the 24 team in the Challenger Round struck me as simply “survive and advance.” While he had a dominant car at Chicagoland, he was a 10th-place car at best in Loudon and Dover. Now that Gordon has moved on to the Contender Round, he’ll find the track lineup of Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega to his advantage.
First is the “Beast of the Southeast.”
Jeff Gordon has a love/hate history with Charlotte Motor Speedway. This was the track where he scored the first of his 92 career wins on May 29, 1994. He’s visited victory lane here five times and has 17 top-fives, 24 top-10s, and nine poles. Gordon has led 787 laps with an average start of 10.7, an average finish of 15.4 and he has completed 93.3 percent of the combined laps in 45 career starts.
Now with that said, Charlotte is the ultimate hit or miss track for the driver of the No. 24 car. His 10 DNF’s here are his most at any track on the NASCAR schedule. From 2005 to 2007, he suffered five straight DNF’s. In the last five races, those five being the races with the Gen-6 car, he’s finished 35th, seventh, seventh, second and 15th. This gives him an average finish of 13.2, which is higher than his career average of 15.4 at the track. Gordon might have a better run this time around since the Chase race doesn’t require as much chasing the changes as the Coca-Cola 600, but I would say it’s wishful thinking to expect anything but a 10th-place finish.
Where the odds truly begin to go up for Jeff Gordon is when we make our way out to the heartland and race at Kansas Speedway.
This has been one of his more friendly tracks. He’s won three times with 11 top-fives and 13 top-10s, led 218 laps with an average start of 13.1, an average finish of 9.9 and has completed 99.2 percent of the combined laps in 19 career starts.
His top-10 average of 68.4 percent is his eighth best behind Pocono, Phoenix, Homestead, Indianapolis, Sonoma, Martinsville and Kentucky. Gordon’s top-five average of 57.9 percent is his third best behind Sonoma and Martinsville. In his last five races at Kansas, he’s finished 13th, third, first, 14th and fourth. This gives him an average finish of 7, higher than his career average of 9.9 at the track. In May, he ran top-10 most of the race and came home fourth. I think it will be another top-five run for Big Daddy in the heartland.
While I expect Jeff Gordon to run well at Charlotte and Kansas, what really gives me confidence in his Contender Round run is the Alabama roulette wheel (I really hope that starts catching on) of Talladega Superspeedway.
Before I go into detail, I’m aware that after Daytona, Gordon said he was glad he only had to do this plate stuff one final time. I’m also not going to say for certain if he’ll just run in the back trying to survive and advance. I do know that, next to Dale Earnhardt Jr., Big Daddy has been the best plate racer this season. He won the pole and dominated the Daytona 500, leading 87 laps before getting caught up in the last-lap wreck on the backstretch. He also won the pole and led 47 laps here back in May where he most likely had the race won until he was busted for speeding when he locked up the brakes getting onto pit road under the sixth caution and restarted the race from the rear of the field. He was unable to work his way back to the front when the field decided to run single-file until two laps remaining. Gordon, again, was caught up in the last-lap wreck and finished 31st. While he didn’t make as much noise in July at Daytona, he did bring the car home to a sixth-place finish before getting caught in the tri-oval melee.
You also can’t overlook the fact that Gordon has more restrictor-plate points wins than any other driver in the history of NASCAR. Before anyone goes to Wikipedia to try and tell me it’s actually Dale Earnhardt, the Intimidator only had 11 points wins in plate races – two of his Talladega wins came before the plates – while Jeff Gordon has 12. I’m not saying that Earnhardt wasn’t the best plate racer in NASCAR history, I’m just saying that Gordon is no slouch when it comes to Daytona and Talladega.
Granted, he hasn’t won a plate race since sweeping Talladega in 2007. But it’s not a stretch to say he could get one last restrictor plate win. Regardless, it’ll be a thrill to be there in person to see Big Daddy make his final start in the hallmark style of racing in NASCAR. I also think when all is said and done, Jeff Gordon will stand victorious at the Alabama roulette wheel.
Do you agree with my case? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Until next time, I’ll leave you with this fact. A syzygy occurs when three astronomical bodies line up.