Earlier today at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon held off five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson for the final 10 laps to take the checkered flag for his third win in 2011 and eighty-fifth of his career, the third most all-time.
Seeing Gordon win isn't unusual. The guy is a four-time points champion. However, I did hear something rather odd once he got out of his car in victory lane. Lots of cheers.
|Photo by: Getty Images|
In some ways, when things have been at there best for Gordon, they've also been at there worst. In winning the Winston Cup in 1995, he dethroned beloved defending champion Dale Earnhardt. Afterwards, it was as if Nascar fans officially tabbed Gordon as public enemy #1.
He won the championship again during the 1997 and 1998 campaigns, and with each one, Nascar fans hatred for him grew even more. After all, he was a California kid that had taken the torch from Earnhardt, a guy with Carolina heritage, the place where Nascar's roots run deepest. No true traditionalist could ever accept Gordon, right?
Then in February 2001, fate intervened. On the final lap of the Daytona 500, Earnhardt was killed in a crash. When he died, a lot of the "traditionalist rules" of Nascar also died with him.
|Photo by: Greg Suvino|
A funny thing happened following the 2001 season. Nothing. As a matter of fact, that's exactly what has happened to Gordon for nearly a decade now. Sure, he's won more races and been in the Chase hunt repeatedly, but as far as titles go, he's won as many as I have since 2001. Zero. So while "nothing" may sound somewhat over dramatic, it actually isn't when you consider the man had won four championships by the time he was 30-years-old.
Now at 40, Gordon is no longer the young dominate driver on the scene. That label has been on Jimmie Johnson for the better half of ten years. Johnson just so happens to be Gordon's teammate, and a guy who drives a car that Gordon is part owner of. Johnson's run is in my view the reason why Nascar has struggled with ratings and attendance the last few years. I mean, why bother watching when you already know who's going to win?
|Photo by: John Harrelson|
I've always liked Jeff Gordon. He was the main reason I started watching Nascar back in the mid-90's. I always thought he got a bum wrap and was hated through no real fault of his own other than going out and winning, which should be the primary goal of everyone that races to begin with.
Now that he's managed to shed his "hated by the masses" image, I hope he's the guy that puts an end to Johnson's half-decade of dominance. Nascar needs someone to "slay the dragon" so-to-speak, and Gordon is just the driver to do it.
|Photo by: Matt Slocum|