Gordon has the lead and the determination, but will either be enough?
Jeff Gordon has the points lead and the determination to win his fifth title. But will either of those things be enough to hold off Jimmie Johnson, writes Terry Blount.
Updated: November 3, 2007, 6:15 PM ETBy Terry Blount | ESPN.com
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Who wants it more?It's an old saying in sports, typically used to determine the difference between evenly matched teams or players.The one with more desire, more determination and more heart is the one that wins out in the end.Using that logic, Jeff Gordon should win the 2007 Nextel Cup title over teammate Jimmie Johnson.That's not to say Johnson doesn't want it. Of course he does. Winning two consecutive Nextel Cup titles is a rare accomplishment. But this is Gordon's championship to lose and he knows it. Gordon has something to prove. To get that fifth championship, he'll have to beat the man he brought to Cup and the teammate who has consistently outraced him the last four seasons."I've always been my harshest critic," Gordon said. "I've beat myself up the last four years because we've gotten our butts beat by the 48 team."Making it even more painful is the fact that Gordon and Johnson have almost identical cars. "There's more to it than that," Gordon said. "You can have the exact same equipment, but if you don't have the chemistry as a team and the support around you, you won't get the full benefits of it."Gordon said he believes he has that now. He has a crew chief he loves in Steve Letarte and a pit crew he trusts on race day.
And Gordon is happier than he's ever been in his personal life with wife Ingrid and baby daughter Ella Sofia."This year has been special in a lot of ways," Gordon said. "This is the first time in a while that I felt I had the equipment, the team around me, the support and the excitement to be able to go into each race with a shot at winning."Everything appears in place for Gordon, but is it enough? He clings to a slim nine-point lead with three races to go.Gordon has been the best driver all season. In the old points system before the Chase, he would have a 439-point lead.Losing this title would mark the second time the Chase has cost Gordon a championship. Disappointing? Devastating comes closer to describing it.Gordon's last championship was six years ago. He has four Cup titles, but only one in the last eight seasons.He needs this one. Gordon needs to prove he's still the top dog in the Hendrick Motorsports stable. He is one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, but losing the championship this year would hurt both personally and professionally.Gordon's wants it more than Johnson, but desire may not be enough.Many things between these two teams are equal. The cars are built in the same shop by the same people. They have an open book on data and notes on each track, sharing things that have worked in the past.
What It Takes To Win The ChaseWith three races left in the 2007 Chase for the Nextel Cup, all 12 drivers still are alive, although the status of each ranges from thriving to critical. Jeff Gordon has a nine-point lead over teammate and defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Johnson could win this year's championship without winning even one of the final three races. The following scenarios take into account how each driver could overtake Gordon in the final three races and, unless otherwise specified, include those drivers winning each race and leading the most laps.
|1) Jeff Gordon||Chase leader|
|2) Jimmie Johnson
|Could take lead by finishing as few as two spots ahead of Gordon or by winning a race|
|3) Clint Bowyer
|Needs Gordon to average a sixth-place finish or worse|
|4) Carl Edwards
|Needs Gordon to average a 20th-place finish or worse|
|5) Tony Stewart
|Needs Gordon to average a 27th-place finish or worse|
|6) Kyle Busch
|Needs Gordon to average a 28th-place finish or worse|
|7) Kevin Harvick
|Needs Gordon to average a 35th-place finish or worse|
|8) Jeff Burton
|Needs Gordon to average a 36th-place finish or worse|
|9) Kurt Busch
|Needs Gordon to average a 38th-place finish or worse|
|10) Denny Hamlin
|Needs Gordon to average a 39th-place finish or worse|
|11) Matt Kenseth
|Needs Gordon to average a 41st-place finish or worse|
|12) Martin Truex Jr.
|Needs Gordon to not start one race and to finish 43rd without leading a lap in the other two|
But Johnson has one thing Gordon doesn't: Chad Knaus, the best crew chief in the business.Gordon said he just didn't see it when Knaus got the job on Johnson's team. Knaus was a crew member and a fabricator for Gordon's team."When someone said Chad would be a good for the 48 team, I laughed," Gordon said. "I said, 'You mean the guy who works in the shop? No way.' I admit I was dead wrong on that one."Chad has surpassed everything any of us expected. He's a very intense competitive guy. He's got an arrogance about him, but it's an arrogance that works and fits. His personality and Jimmie's are opposites, but it works for them."Letarte is working for Gordon. Gordon won three titles with Ray Evernham and one with Robbie Loomis. Now Gordon is in his second full season with Letarte, a quiet 28-year-old from Maine who has led Gordon back to the top. "To me, Steve is a balance between Ray and Robbie," Gordon said. "That's what I love about him. He knows how to relax with his family and he knows how to be intense at work. He also knows what I like. He sees how I do things and what works for me as a driver."And as much as he respects Knaus, Gordon said it wouldn't work for him."Chad and Steve are totally different," Gordon said. "I've said many times I couldn't work with Chad as my crew chief. With my personality, it wouldn't work. But as the co-owner of that team, I'm glad it works for them."It's not often when a guy has to beat his own team to win a championship. Gordon is the co-owner of the No. 48 Chevy with Rick Hendrick, but it's just a financial partnership. Gordon isn't making decisions about the team."I really don't consider myself a car owner," Gordon said. "Obviously, I want them to do well. But out here, I'm just a competitor and I want to win. I'll tell you what I want more than anything. I want to win this championship."
Gordon wants it more. Is that enough?
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.