Have you guys heard of this Jeffrey Michael Gordon guy? No, he isn't the basketball player (though he is friends with Michael Jeffrey Jordan's buddy Barkley). You may not know him by his given name, as he is more commonly referred to by a number of different nicknames: the Rainbow Warrior, Wonder Boy, just Gordo, and the entire gamut of sexual-orientation insinuations.
In terms of NASCAR nation, he's a bipolar driver: either you like him or you loathe him. There is no in-between. It is not allowed.
Bill Davis and Ford hate him. Rick Hendrick and Chevy love him. Dale Earnhardt didn't. But then he did. Brooke Sealey did. But then she didn't. But then, after hiring a good lawyer, she did again.
Anyway, he's quite good.
Yes ... yet again, we find Jeff Gordon in a familiar position atop the points standings. I'll avoid the stats entirely, because I'm the couch guy and, after a long weekend of great hoops and a wild Martinsville, I just may have wet brain.
Suffice it to say, his biography is synonymous with victory. But what isn't familiar – and something we are painstakingly reminded of at the beginning of every race these days – is the zeros in his victory column over the last 47 races. Strangely, he can no longer win.
Some people have blamed Steve Letarte, his crew chief. One guy even called him the Marty Schottenheimer of NASCAR, which is pretty funny. Some have blamed Ingrid Vandebosch, with whom, as evidenced by Ella Sophia, Gordon actually is sealing the deal. Recent rumors claim he has a bad back, which is believable when you are constantly picking up a toddler that is roughly your same size.
Me? I don't think it's an off-track excuse. I think it's a simple subtly of great athletes. I think he has lost his ability to finish.
In the last five races – and even in a handful of events in his winless '08 – Gordon has been within striking distance of the win. Well, not striking distance for the average driver, but striking distance for the historical Gordon – the four-time champion Gordon.
When a million bucks were on the line, he was unbeatable. When a road course hit the schedule, they handed Gordon the trophy during qualifying. When he arrived at a handful of his favorite big-time venues, Gordon always found a way to the checkered flag. None more memorable, for me, than the '99 Daytona 500 where Gordon played chicken with the moving chicane of Ricky Rudd and the clearly chicken Rusty Wallace, then held off the Intimidator with a typical, flawless drive.
To me, that race summed up the old Gordon. He took the Daytona Fi-hundred, won from the pole, exposed Rusty and held off Dale Sr. – the winningest driver at the track, the established rival, fan favorite and quite possibly the worst person in the history of NASCAR to have in your rearview mirror.
That's a lot of pressure for the win, and to overcome it, talent, focus, audacity, desire, panache, fortune and possibly a touch of youth all have to come together. It's not easy to summon all this, especially the youth part, even over the course of a distinguished career. And now, an ingredient – or small parts of several of them – is missing.
A few years back, a young Gordon knew how to finish. Now he can't even catch Kurt Busch.