Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon
has had his share of struggles in his career, but nothing quite like this. With
just seven races to go before the Chase begins, he is sitting 17th points, looking
up at the likes of Paul Menard and
Joey Logano. Gordon is winless in
2012, and he has as many top-five finishes (2) as he does DNFs. Most fantasy owners
probably gave up on Gordon months ago, and it is easy to look at the ugly numbers
and assume that his skills are starting to fade just a bit. However, a closer
look reveals that the only thing Gordon has been missing this season is a little
luck, and he could turn out to be a sleeping giant that fantasy owners can rely
on during the stretch run.
A quick look at the data NASCAR collects
through its scoring loops (loop data) makes it obvious that Gordon has been
much better than his current position in the standings indicates. He ranks in
the top 10 in driver rating, average running position, laps run in the top 15,
percent of time spent on the lead lap and quality passes. More importantly,
Gordon ranks fifth in laps led this season and second in both number of fastest
laps runs and average green flag speed. In other words, he is not only fast
almost every week, but he has consistently been one of the fastest cars on the
track this season.
Taking the loop data into account, it's almost amazing that Gordon isn't sitting
comfortably inside the top 10, but that's what a little bad luck will do. Sure,
he has hurt his own cause with some speeding penalties along the way, but mechanical
issues and ill-timed cautions have plagued him. Things have been so bad that
his car owner Rick Hendrick joked that he wouldn't fly in the same plane as
Gordon. Can't his teammate Jimmie
Johnson let him borrow the "golden horseshoe" that Kevin
Harvick claimed is stuck up a certain part of Johnson's body.
It is tough to speculate what his numbers might look like this year had he
been able to avoid some of the bad breaks, but the last five races are likely
a good indicator. During the stretch, Gordon has posted a 7.0 average finish
and has finished in the top 12 in all five starts. He also has four finishes
of sixth or better during the span, scoring the most points of any driver in
the series. Based on the loop data, Gordon has been running well enough to put
up these types of numbers all year. More importantly for fantasy owners, he
probably won't be slowing down. Since the start of the 2005 season, Gordon has
the second-best average finish (12.1) and fourth-best driver rating at the seven
tracks leading up to the Chase.
There is no question that Gordon has been one of the biggest disappointments
in fantasy leagues this year, and his horrible start might ultimately cost him
a shot at making the Chase and competing for a fifth championship. However,
he is also more than capable of putting up championship-caliber numbers for
the rest of the year, and that is the only thing fantasy owners need to worry
about. Gordon has quietly been the best driver in the Cup Series for the past
five races, and don't be surprised if he remains a top-five performer the rest
of the way.
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
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