NASCAR 2000. It has been one of the most competitive seasons in NASCAR history. It has also been one of the most dismal seasons in Jeff Gordon history. The 34th place finish in the Daytona 500 and 3rd place run at Rockingham the following weekend are the epitomy of a roller-coaster season that has left the #24 team in 9th place in the Winston Cup points standings.
However, as of late, the team has been getting it together to post a string of 5 Top-10 finishes, including a victory at Richmond on September 9th.
Gordon gives much of the credit to a new way of thinking. "Sometimes you get stuck in your old ways. We've got setup books from years of racing and those don't always work forever. Sometimes you have to change what you're doing as a driver and what the team does, how they build the cars and the setups.
"I think that today, as competitive as it is, it's nice to have fresh minds - the minds that are out there that aren't used to saying, `This is way I drive the track. This is the way we set this car up.' I think it helps sometimes on finding new things that work."
Although Gordon is quick to credit the chemistry improvement within his brand new team, he also gives credit to his teammate Jerry Nadeau. Even thought the finishing statistics don't show it, Nadeau and crew chief Tony Furr are ever-improving. In fact, the #25 MichaelHoligan.com Chevrolet that Nadeau drives has run up front more this year than all other recent years combined.
Gordon notes that having a teammate like Jerry has helped he and Robbie Loomis build a better race team of their own.
"Jerry's been helping me out a lot lately. I'm really happy to have Jerry in that 25 car. I'm happy to have Jerry as an addition to Hendrick Motorsports because he and I drive similar, very aggressive. We're happy to have Tony [Furr, crew chief] over there, too, because Tony likes to throw some wild stuff at it. We're kind of more on the traditional stuff that has worked for us in the past. It's nice to be able to blend those things together at those high speeds places like Atlanta and here."
One area in particular that Nadeau and Furr have helped out the Dupont team is qualifying. Their team has started in the top ten 12 times since the season opener in Daytona.
"They've run a lot better than us, especially qualifying. Even in Atlanta, I was talking to him earlier in the year about some things he was doing. I think what it came down to was things we were doing with our body, things we were doing with our chassis, and they did help us out a lot."
Even this weekend at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Gordon and Nadeau are talking frequently and sharing information, as evidenced by the first and third place starting positions respectively for Sunday's race.
"Jerry and I were having fun today. We were running back and forth. I'd go out and run a little faster than him in practice, and I'd go over there and see him and he'd run a little faster than me. Then he'd come over and see me. Things like this pay off. I'm sure I'll be loaning him some information. Hopefully I've got something to offer him and hopefully I can repay him for helping us out."
NASCAR 2000 isn't over yet. As the season winds down and the 2001 season begins, keep an eye on that #24 DuPont team. They are on a roll that could spell out a 4th Winston Cup Championship.
"We hope that we have turned around. I think the team has definitely gotten more consistent," Gordon said. "I can tell from just the attitude and the effort that is being put in is all one, they're working together and it's shown on the race track."