Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon is known by many monikers, including “Wonderboy,” “The Kid,” and “The Rainbow Warrior.”
Known to drop the hammer when there’s cash on the line, Gordon earned the nickname as “The Money Man” by FOX Sports/Speed TV announcer Darrell Waltrip for the 37-year old’s five $1 million victories in his prolific career.
Once again in this year’s 25th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series All-Star Race at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway, the Vallejo, CA, native pressed hard for another rich payday after finishing in the top-five in the previous three segments of the event.
Winning the third segment, the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet started in the “pole” position for the final 10 lap shootout, propelling his Hendrick entry into a comfortable lead.
However, Gordon’s lead was short-lived, when the caution flag flew due to teammate Jimmie Johnson’s spin which bunched up the field for another double-file restart.
With the caution flag laps not counting in the race, Gordon’s lead meant that the bulls-eye was on his No. 24 car-NASCAR’s version of a sitting duck.
Relinquishing the lead to a hard charging Kyle Busch, Gordon did not back off from the battle for the lead and win, pushing his DuPont Chevrolet back into contention for the $1 million payout.
Despite the reputation that Lowe’s Motor Speedway gets for being a spacious track with ample passing room, the front stretch did not have enough room for the top-three drivers.
Gordon found himself going three-wide on the inside line with Busch and Ryan Newman battling along side, with each driver refusing to give up any inch of real estate for that coveted lead spot.
If this situation was occurring in next Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, chances are that Gordon, Newman, or Busch would have backed off the throttle to give each driver some racing room to avoid what would result in sheet metal mayhem.
Well, this is the All-Star Race, where points don’t count and only the winner gets remembered after the contest. Usually.
Unfortunately for the case of Gordon, he will remember the 2009 edition of this race as the one that got away for he and his No. 24 team.
Refusing to give up his position on the track, Gordon found himself going for a wild spin across the front-stretch grass, sliding through that portion of the track until coming to a halting crash into the SAFER barrier just after the dog-leg before Turn One.
“It’s the All-Star race,” Gordon said per AP article by Jenna Fryer following the hard-fought battle for the race lead. “That’s just a bunch of guys racing really, really hard. I heard three-wide at the last second.”
While the result for this year’s race meant some cash and a battered DuPont machine that will most likely not see any track action in the immediate future, Gordon and company can be consoled by the fact that their performance tonight was reminiscent of his dominant days of the past.
When’s the last time you remember Gordon actually going for the win in the All-Star Race, much less at LMS?
In my preview article documenting the factors heading into this event, I made a comment on how the three-time event winner has not exactly contended for the lead or engaged in a spirited battle for the win in this race.
While Gordon’s gamble proved futile and costly, the performance that he delivered in front of the racefans was nothing short of magnificent.
Finishing among the top-five in the three segments, including his third segment win, Gordon looked like the champion of the past who pushed his cars to the limit.
With the Coca-Cola 600 next on the racing schedule for the Cup series, we may have not seen the best from the No. 24 team.
Defeated and out from the All-Star Race, won by satellite “teammate” Tony Stewart, look for the 600 to have a retro feel with the current points leader right there for the win next Sunday.