NASCAR: Gordon eyeing 5th title after big Brickyard win
Indianapolis • Long before Jimmie Johnson arrived on the NASCAR scene, Jeff Gordon was the fastest thing on wheels.
He was the "Wonder Boy" who racked up wins at a record place. He brought the Southern sport to Madison Avenue and became such a household name that even rapper Nelly name-dropped Gordon in a song.
Gordon won all the big races, collected four championships in seven years and had 58 victories before his 30th birthday.
Then his pace began to slow, the rest of the field caught up to him and Johnson moved into the Hendrick Motorsports shop as the new kid on the block. Gordon hasn’t won a title since, while Johnson has won five.
Now, 13 years after Gordon launched "The Drive for 5," he is on track to collect that elusive fifth title.
The Sprint Cup points leader won Sunday’s Brickyard 400, a race that often gives a preview of the championship. Nine times in 21 years, the winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway went on to hoist the Cup at the end of the year.
"If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere," Gordon said after his NASCAR-record fifth win at Indy.
Gordon, a week shy of his 43rd birthday and often fighting an aching back, won on the 20th anniversary celebration of his first Brickyard victory. It came on the day the mayor of Indianapolis proclaimed "Jeff Gordon Day," and it showed Gordon is trying to make 2014 his year.
Although he talked in January of retirement considerations, Gordon is reinvigorated and deeply committed to winning a title with his No. 24 team.
"You feel like you’ve kind of won all that you could win, you’ve won four championships, then a guy like Jimmie Johnson comes along and starts dominating, you kind of lose the motivation," Gordon said.
But he is inspired by the work ethic and dedication of crew chief Alan Gustafson, and fears being "the weak link" of the race team. He also is motivated to share his success with wife, Ingrid, and their two young children. Gordon married Ingrid in 2006 and the couple quickly added a boy and a girl to the family.
"It’s pushed me to give more, do more, work harder," he said. "Ingrid has never experienced a championship. I told her, ‘Hey, I know you want to know what it’s like to win a championship. Well, there’s a big commitment that it takes.’ She’s like, ‘Whatever it takes.’
"That’s the kind of year that we’re having."
It’s going take everything Gordon has to win this Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, the first under a winner-take-all, elimination-round format.
A model of consistency all season long with 14 top-10 finishes in 20 races, the slate will be wiped clean come September. Gordon will have to be aggressive and out front to make it through the three elimination rounds. If he is one of the four drivers to advance all the way to the Homestead finale, the title will go to the best driver in the fastest car on one day only.
That could be Gordon, if he drives anything like he did at Indy.