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2000: A Look in the Rearview

Looking at Jeff Gordon's 2000 season, it could easily be seen as a failure or the passing of a great dynasty. Especially after the 13 win season of 1998.

However, factor in that he won three races including career win number 50 (the youngest driver to do so), sat on three poles, and finished in the top ten in ten of the last 11 races of the 2000 campaign all with a new crew chief and pit crew and things don't look so dismal after all.

Gordon's season started in a puff of smoke.

That's why true Gordon fans have been looking at it as a rebuilding, restructuring, and reorganizing year.

Everyone knows that Ray Evernhame left the #24 DuPont Chevy Team in the fall of 1999. Shortly thereafter, the famed Rainbow Warriors left the team for Robert Yates Racing, and Dale Jarrett. These facts are hardly worth mentioning again.

However, the team entered the 2000 season with a new crew chief, new pit crew, a new Monte Carlo, and high hopes. Speedweeks at Daytona were a tough 10 days for most of the teams, especially the Chevrolet faction. New rules had NASCAR controlling the setups of the cars, and the new Chevrolet Monte Carlo couldn't keep up with the radically altered Ford Taurus. Things looked good when Gordon gained the 11th starting spot by finishing 6th in one of the Gatorade 125's, but things quickly turned bad when an experimental oil fitting on the car came loose, spewing smoke, and giving Gordon a dismal 34th place finish after an unscheduled green flag pit stop.

The next weekend was a 10th place finish at Rockingham. His first Bud Pole of the season, and the first clue that the team was on the heading down the right track, came two weeks later at Darlington. Texas, a track that Gordon just can't seem to get the handle of, left him finishing in 25th place, 14 laps down, after an accident.

Two races later, on April 16th, Gordon won the thrilling Talladega 500 from the 36th starting spot, a race record. His first victory propelled him from 10th in the points standings to 7th, 221 points out of first. Unfortunately, this was the highest position he gained.

The first win of 2000 came at Talladega.

Over the next 20 races, Gordon added two more victories, had six top-5s and 11 top-10s. He dropped to 10th in points and remained there for 14 of those 20 events. It was also during this time that he extended his streak of road course wins to 6 at Sears Point in June, only to see that streak end when Tony Stewart took him out at Watkins Glen in August.

The Brickyard 400, was one of the biggest races of the season, and the first of a terrible month of August for the #24 team. Gordon was involved in an early race accident involving Mike Skinner, Mark Martin, and Rick Mast. He finished 33rd with a special "Peanuts" comic strip paint scheme.

"The Tony Stewart Incident" will be long felt by many Jeff Gordon fans. Stewart wrecked Jeff in the early-going and relegated him to a 23rd place finish. What happened after the race, however, is most important. When Gordon and Stewart climbed out of their cars, Gordon accused Stewart of wrecking him. Then, it appeared that both drivers started cursing at each other. Many Gordon fans, who know Jeff's commitment to Christ, were appalled. But, fortunately, Bill Weber of RPM Tonight reviewed the tape over and over and concluded that Gordon never swore once. All of the swearing came from Tony Stewart.

The next two races, The Pepsi 400 presented by Meijer at Michigan, and the 500 at Bristol were the final two races in the month that never saw Gordon finish in the top-20.

Two races later, Gordon scored his third victory of the season. However, it was not without a little trouble. NASCAR had some "issues" with the intake manifold used on Jeff's car. It was made out of magnesium and not aluminum, which the rules require. Robbie Loomis, crew chief was fined $25,000, Gordon lost 100 drivers point, and Hendrick Motorsports lost 100 owners points. Hendrick appealed saying that neither they or GM knew that the part was not approved, but the penalty stood.

4 races later, Gordon won the Pole at Charlotte, but finished 39th after an accident involving Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett, Ted Musgrave and Gordon. This was his second and final DNF of the season and the only finish outside the top 10 in the last 11 races.

He headed to the last five races one point behind Ward Burton, the ninth-place driver. With Gordon's chances of a championship long gone, he was now fighting for a top-10 finish.

Through the final handful of races he achieved three top-5s and had top-10 finishes in all five events, including a Bud Pole in the season finale at Atlanta. That gave him a solid ninth in final standings, 221 points ahead of Burton and only 49 behind eighth-place driver Mark Martin.

Bittersweet victory at Richmond


Gordon will be sitting at the table in New York, he will be featured in the video presentation, get to walk across the stage, get his check and make a speech. Those are the privileges reserved for the top-10 finishers.

Though he will not be the last to walk across the stage, get a $3 million check and make the final speech like Bobby Labonte, this season's champion, Gordon will still be at the table.

“Once you’ve won one championship, then your only goal is to win another championship,” Gordon said. “That’s our goal every year, to win the championship. This wasn’t a stellar year for us and we know that. What we want to do is take this group we’ve got right now and build on that to be championship-caliber by the time we get to Daytona next year.

“It was a competitive season, but Bobby Labonte was the most consistent. They did the best job of anybody all year long. They deserve the championship. I want to congratulate Bobby and (crew chief) Jimmy Makar and Joe Gibbs and that whole team. They did a phenomenal job. They’ve been working on this for the past three or four years and it finally came together for them.”

However, as always, Gordon's outlook for the next year is bright, now that his entire team has been in place for a year.

“We’re getting close. We’re really gaining on it,” Gordon said. “There are just a few areas we need to tweak on. It’s never perfect, but it’s going fairly well right now. I’m real happy with the team. The communication is especially good right now, and I see a big difference in the chemistry of the team.

“Over the last 10 races of the season, we showed that we’re championship-caliber because we were finishing in the Top 5 and Top 10. But I still would like to get our car a little more competitive to get up there and battle for more victories.

“That's traditionally the way we’ve won championships and that’s the way I’d like to win a championship again. In order to be more competitive, we’ve got a little work to do still, mainly on our bodies. The team has come together. We've just got to get the car a little better.”

If they can do just that, it looks like 2001 will be the year of Jeff Gordon's 4th championship.