Gor­don has no re­grets af­ter fin­ish­ing sec­ond

The Covington News - - Sports - By Jenna Fryer

NEW YORK — Min­utes into NASCAR’s an­nual in­dus­try lun­cheon, the driver known as “Four Time” spot­ted team­mate Jim­mie John­son at the next ta­ble.

“What’s up champ?” Jeff Gor­don whis­pered, reach­ing across to shake John­son’s hand. “Two-Time now. Two-time.”

De­spite los­ing the fight for the Nex­tel Cup ti­tle, Gor­don is very much en­joy­ing John­son’s sec­ond con­sec­u­tive cham­pi­onship. The Hendrick Mo­tor­sports driv­ers waged a fierce com­pe­ti­tion all sea­son, but John­son used an un­be­liev­able late push to hand­ily de­fend his ti­tle while deny­ing Gor­don a fifth one.

But Gor­don showed no signs of bit­ter­ness Thurs­day when the 12 ti­tle con­tend­ing driv­ers gath­ered at Cipri­ani’s to pick up their end of the sea­son awards.

“Jim­mie and I fin­ished 1-2 and that was ob­vi­ously a tremen­dous year for Hendrick Mo­tor­sports,” he said. “It’s cer­tainly not some­thing that I am go­ing to hang my head about. I had a great year.” A record-set­ting year, ac­tu­ally. Gor­don notched a record 30 top-10 fin­ishes in the 36 points races, while win­ning six times and build­ing a lead of more than 300 points dur­ing the “reg­u­lar sea­son.” And if NASCAR still had the same scor­ing sys­tem it used dur­ing Gor­don’s first four ti­tles, he would have locked down the cham­pi­onship with two weeks to go in the sea­son.

But un­der the new Chase for the cham­pi­onship for­mat, the field was re­set for the fi­nal 10 races and 12 el­i­gi­ble driv­ers bat­tled for the ti­tle. Gor­don jumped out to an early lead with two Chase vic­to­ries and a stel­lar 5.1 av­er­age fin­ish.

John­son was just a notch bet­ter, though, and reeled off four straight wins to grab the ti­tle away. His av­er­age fin­ish was 5.0. It was a run rem­i­nis­cent of Gor­don’s early days, when he dom­i­nated the se­ries and won ev­ery­thing in sight.

And in be­com­ing the first driver since Gor­don to win con­sec­u­tive ti­tles and notch dou­ble-digit wins (10) in a sea­son, John­son is tug­ging at

Gor­don’s hold on the role of the best ac­tive driver.

The two headed into the finale at Home­stead-Mi­ami Speed­way with John­son need­ing a col­lapse to lose the ti­tle.

“The only way we were go­ing to win it in Home­stead was for Jim­mie and those guys to have prob­lems, and there’s noth­ing worse than go­ing into a race and know that un­less they have trou­ble — and you don’t want to wish that on any­body,” he said. “I want to win that cham­pi­onship by beat­ing those guys, and the truth of the mat­ter is they beat us when it counted.”

Gor­don said the days af­ter the penul­ti­mate race at Phoenix, when he re­al­ized John­son would win the ti­tle, were the tough­est of the sea­son for him. But when the dis­ap­point­ment sub­sided, he was able to view ev­ery one of John­son’s feats as ac­com­plish­ments that strengthen Hendrick Mo­tor­sports.

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