Jeff Gordon Rides Miraculous Richmond Performance into Chase

Jordan AndersContributor IISeptember 13, 2012

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 8, 2012 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

A little more than three weeks ago, I published an article on this website entitled "Is Jeff Gordon's Sprint Cup Career on the Decline?" in which I made the case that the four-time Sprint Cup champion has lost a little edge and isn't the same dominant driver he used to be.

Many of you stuck up for him in the comments section of that article, saying that bad luck was to blame for his poor performances this season and that those were no reason to say he was on a downward slide career-wise.

I allowed those of you with that mindset to have your say, but still held to my belief that the Jeff Gordon that hits the racetrack just isn't the same Jeff Gordon that hit the racetrack 10, or even five, years ago.

Then, Richmond happened, and Gordon made me look like a fool.

His performance last Saturday night in the final race before the Chase was the stuff legends are made of, just a notch behind Tony Stewart's historic performance in last year's finale at Homestead.

While Kyle Busch's Richmond meltdown helped, Gordon did what I insinuated that he could not anymore: he tore through the field on his way to the front like the Jeff Gordon of old, blowing the doors off anyone in between himself and a wild card berth in the Chase.

He wheeled that car with the fury and the determination of a decade ago, when he was still, unquestionably, the most dominant and dangerous driver on the racetrack.

Now, I will stick up for myself in that I never said Gordon's days of being competitive were over; only that his days of being a driver to fear on a weekly basis seemed to be fading away.

But his performance, and, more importantly, the performance of the No. 24 team as a whole in Richmond, showed that not only could Gordon compete for the title, he could absolutely win it with a break or two.

Through the first 150 laps at Richmond, Gordon's car was so dreadful that he fell off the lead lap. But he and crew chief Alan Gustafson worked for the next 250 laps and turned that car into one that would have been in Victory Lane at the end of the night if not for some great strategy by Brian Pattie, crew chief for winner Clint Bowyer.

Gordon heads into the Chase riding the momentum of finishes of third, second and second in the last three races. He has 31 combined victories at the tracks that host the first nine races of the Chase, and though he's winless at Homestead, he does have six top-five finishes there.

The job that Gustafson did at Richmond to take Gordon's car from awful to dominant was outstanding. There's no denying that.

But Gordon was the man who put that car on his back and drove to second place and delivered a Chase berth, and now that he's in, that team has had the speed—and, yes, Gordon still has the talent—all year to deliver Gordon's fifth title.

And, just in case you were wondering, I will not be questioning Jeff Gordon's talent level anymore.

And, in case you were also wondering, crow isn't all that tasty.