No. 24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevy
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
Crew Chief: Alan Gustafson
Average Start: 14.4
Average Finish: 13.0
Races Led: 22
Laps Led: 922
% Laps Completed: 97.8%
Points Finish: 8th
2011 in a Nutshell
Before the season, the consensus among the pundits – including myself – was that Alan Gustafson was going to jumpstart Jeff Gordon’s career and take him to a level he hadn’t been at in a couple of years. And that’s exactly what happened; as two races into the year Gordon snapped his 66-race winless streak and went on to win two other events. While it did take some time to build some consistency, eventually that came around as well, and Gordon, at times, looked like the driver of yesteryear.
Reasons to Believe
The chemistry he has with crew chief Alan Gustafson is reminiscent of the bond he used to have with Ray Evernham … Three wins is a strong indicator that the fire still burns within Gordon … Gustafson is one of the best head wrenches in the garage and he knows what changes are needed midrace to make a car better for last 50 miles … In their second year together the rapport between Gordon and Gustafson should be even better … Gordon is an all-time great driver who can win anywhere and has, with the exception of Kentucky and Homestead … His 13 top-fives were the fourth most.
Reasons to Doubt
The 24 team had stretches last year where they were just pedestrian, especially during the Chase where they were just ordinary … Before last season, Gordon had won just once in three seasons … 2007 was the last year the four-time champ seriously contended for the title … An Alan Gustafson led team has never won multiple races in consecutive seasons … Gordon will be hard-pressed to duplicate his success in 2011 … He has to do away with the six finishes of 25th or worse … It’s been 10 years since his last championship.
Area of Strength: Martinsville
Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin may have usurped Jeff Gordon as the King of Martinsville, but that doesn’t mean he has forgotten how to navigate the tricky half-mile track. Seven wins, an exceptional average finish of 6.9 and 17 top-10s in his last 18 starts, more than show that.
Area of Weakness: Collecting trophies
There was a time not too long ago when you could count on Jeff Gordon not only to win in a given year, but to do so many times over. Now though, expecting the guy who’s won 85 times in his career to win multiple races is no given. Since the beginning of the 2008 season, Gordon has made just four voyages to Victory Lane, and has failed to win races in consecutive years. If he is to contend, and possibly secure another title, winning races – plural – is an absolute must.
Best-case Scenario For 2012
10 years after last tasting championship glory, Jeff Gordon does so once again and finally gets that elusive fifth title.
Worst-case Scenario For 2012
Zero wins, a lack of consistency, and while he does get into the Chase, he’s a virtual nonfactor throughout.
In Their Words
“He (car owner Rick Hendrick) provides us with the most amazing equipment and people. As drivers, when you come to work for Hendrick Motorsports, you know you better step up you game. You need to put your game face on.”
Predicted Number of Wins: 2
The Racing Geek’s Final Thought
As noted above, it comes to winning for Jeff Gordon. If he can find Victory Lane and do so somewhat regularly, he appears poised to finally get his fifth Sprint Cup trophy. Otherwise, if the wins are hard to come by, it will be the 11th straight year where Gordon has failed to win his fifth championship.