The old adage of a superstar is that it's better to burnout than fade away. However, few of us envisioned that a year after putting up a formidable run at the Cup, we'd be watching Jeff Gordon's season burn to the ground by Memorial Day.
Things have gotten so bad for Gordon and the No. 24 team in the season's first 11 races that he trails an actual fader in former teammate Mark Martin. Martin was replaced at Hendrick Motorsports this year by Kasey Kahne. With only eight starts, the 53-year-old is fulfilling the role of a part-time driver, albeit quite well. It was his career that was supposed to be on the downslide, not Gordon's!
Week after week, the No. 24 has encountered some sort of bad luck and has sputtered to an unimaginable two top-10s in 11 races. He's finished on the lead lap just three times. Aside from Martinsville, where he led 328 laps, he's been in front on just 10 laps in the other 10 races.
Gordon did appear to have turned the season around during the Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. He dominated a track where he's been known to have success until David Reutimann's car gave up on the front stretch to bring out a late caution. On the ensuing restart, the No. 24 got bumped and spun going into turn one, and he had to settle for a disappointing 14th place.
The frustration was something he'd felt earlier in the year and it's something he's continued to feel since. His engine blew up in the season's opener at Daytona. He spun after making contact with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Bristol. He seemingly escaped "The Big One" at Talladega before the rogue and out-of-control vehicle of Martin Truex Jr. clipped him emerging from the wreck and put him in the wall. This past weekend, he suffered back-to-back flat tires before the car was taken to the garage for repair.
Very little of the result is the fault of Jeff Gordon as a driver. Very little of it is the fault of Crew Chief Alan Gustafson and the crew. It's instances like this that exemplify the phrase: "That's racing." Unfortunately for fans of the No. 24, this isn't the racing they've come to expect from the four-time champion and one-time "Wonderboy."
It's certainly not fair to think after a successful 19-year-career that one of the sport's all-time greats is burning out nor fading away. However, the 2012 season is quickly getting incinerated, as the No. 24 coincidentally sits in the Sprint Cup standing that matches his car's number.
While Gordon once seemed like a lock to challenge the record of seven titles held by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, it's been 11 years since his last championship. Despite his car's sponsorship, he's not ready to join AARP quite yet, but at the age of 40, he's not getting any years put back on his career either.
It's not too late for him to win a few races and take advantage of a Chase that owes him one. (It likely cost him the 2007 championship and reset the points when he was one of the few within striking distance on a few other occasions.) The creation of the Wild Card means that if can win a race, he has a reasonable chance at sneaking into the Chase through the back door.
However, there's not much more than a few straws to grasp onto right now. He's struggled enough just to stay be on the lead lap when the race ends that a win seems like it'd be more luck than anything else. In case you don't take anything else away from this article: he has no luck right now!
But, it's still racing, right!?
Luck generally balances itself out over time, and Jeff Gordon is certainly due a string of solid performances and at least a couple trips to Victory Lane. This weekend's All Star race will have no bearing on the season's standings, but it should be a good opportunity for the entire No. 24 team to hit the reset button on a terrible season and try a different groove than it's used for a miserable first 11 races.