Gordon, Kenseth searching for wins
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – There will be no fifth championship this year for Jeff Gordon, who came heartbreakingly close last year before losing to teammate Jimmie Johnson.
Matt Kenseth, the last driver to win a title under the old points system, also will fail to win the Sprint Cup under the four-year-old Chase for the championship format.
All is not lost for the two former champions: They each have five races left to make it to Victory Lane and extend lengthy winning streaks. Kenseth has won at least one race every year since 2001, and Gordon’s streak stretches all the way back to his 1993 rookie season.
But both are currently mired in long losing streaks.
Kenseth hasn’t won in 31 races, dating back to last year’s finale at Homestead. Gordon just hit the one-year anniversary of his last victory, which came last October at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
“It’s a big deal to win, and it’s really hard to win,” Kenseth said. “If we don’t win a race this year, I’ll be really disappointed in that. But I can’t do anything special to try to get a win. I race as hard as I can race every single race.”
Kenseth, who is 11th in the 12-driver championship field, has never been a consistent winner. He won a career-best five races in 2002 and added four wins in 2006, but his other five seasons were just one- and two-win years.
Gordon’s predicament is more surprising. He’s had 14 consecutive multiple-win seasons, including two 10-win years and 13 victories in 1998.
Last year was another big season, with six victories and a runner-up finish to Johnson in the Chase. But he’s been off all year, has not finished higher than third anywhere and is a distant eighth in the standings.
Gordon insists he’s not feeling the pressure to win as the season hits its final stretch.
“That’s not how it works for us. The media is making a lot out of that. If we win a race this year, we deserved to win one and did the job that it takes,” Gordon said. “If we don’t win, it’s not the end of the world. We just regroup and get ourselves ready to go tear it up in 2009.”
Before his controversial win at Talladega two weeks ago, Tony Stewart was in the same winless club as Gordon and Kenseth. The two-time champion had won multiples race in each of his first nine seasons, but was riding a 33-winless streak when he arrived at Talladega.
Unlike the other two former champions, Stewart had been in position to win numerous races this season only to lose them in various ways. He was passed on the last lap at Daytona, blew a tire with three to go in the Coca-Cola 600 and fell victim to the weather when rain shortened a race in New Hampshire.
As the losing streak followed him into Talladega, crew chief Greg Zipadelli faced numerous exasperating questions about their failure to win.
“It’s a tough year. It’s competitive. We’ve got distractions,” he rattled off. “I can’t believe we’re even sitting here having this conversation about why.”
But Zipadelli could point to the confusion surrounding Stewart’s drawn out decision to leave Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of this season why the No. 20 team fell off as the year went on. He called Stewart’s decision “an obvious distraction,” but noted it’s much harder to win now than it was when he and Stewart first won three races in their 1999 rookie year.
“When things go your way, they go your way in this sport, and you can make a lot of things happen,” Zipadelli said. “But you can run good every week and still not win.”
Neither Gordon nor Kenseth has had much go their way this season. Kenseth had a strong run at Talladega until teammate Carl Edwards triggered a 12-car accident that collected Kenseth. At the time of the accident, Kenseth, Edwards and Greg Biffle were all racing for the lead with 14 laps to go.
Gordon hit the wall twice at the start of Saturday night’s race at Lowe’s and fell a lap down minutes into the event. But he battled back, led 47 laps and might have won the race had pit strategy not cost him his chance.
He’s moving forward to Martinsville Speedway this weekend confident he’ll break his losing streak. Of the five remaining tracks, Gordon has won everywhere but Texas and Homestead.
But he’s got multiple wins at Martinsville (7) and Atlanta (4), and is a one-time winner at Phoenix.
“I think we’ve got a couple more races left that we have a real legitimate shot at, and I never count us out anywhere,” he said. “So we’ve still got some races we can get it done.”
Kenseth said the key will be not worrying about results.
“We do everything we know how to do to try to win races and bring our best stuff and race as hard as we can. You can’t do anymore than that,” he said. “The second you try to do more than that is when you end up wrecked or have problems or make mistakes. We’re doing everything we can do. If it all lines up and something happens and we can win a race or two here before then that would be great.
“But, like I said, I don’t feel like we can try any harder than we’re trying.”