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Publication: NASCAR News
Gordon revels in season of awe

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         NASCAR NEWS - Thursday, November 22, 2007
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Gordon revels in season of awe, ultimate frustration
By Dave Rodman, NASCAR.COM 

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - The sweet-and-sour reality of Jeff 
Gordon's second-place finish in the Chase for the Nextel 
Cup, was painted all over his face on Homestead-Miami 
Speedway's pit road following the Ford 400. 

As if tickling a pit bull with a 5-foot swamp weed, Gordon 
was forced to watch his Hendrick Motorsports teammate 
Jimmie Johnson celebrate his second consecutive Nextel Cup 
championship by executing a fiercely smoking burnout merely 
100 yards away on the frontstretch. 

Gordon managed a smile when the juxtaposition prompted a 
reporter to ask if Gordon felt Johnson was yet again over-
shadowing him. 

"He's been doing that for, well, I guess the last couple 
of years -- I was going to say four or five weeks," Gordon 
said, laughing. "Oh yeah, the year that almost was. 

"Certainly I'm going to look back at this as a great year. 
But it wasn't a championship year." 

Gordon had just battled an evil-handling Chevrolet Monte 
Carlo for the final time, for 400 miles and 267 laps -- 
and subdued it for a fourth-place finish. The "standard" 
cars will be replaced full time by the Car of Tomorrow 
next season. 

But when Gordon climbed out to meet the press, he looked 
as drained as if he had also fought two hives of bees and 
a coupleb of wolverines at the same time. 

To quantify losing a championship by 77 points after 
recording an average finish of 5.1 for the 10 races in 
the Chase, setting a NASCAR Modern Era record for top-10 
finishes (30) and adding 21 top-fives, six wins and seven 
poles in a 36-race season was almost indescribable. 

"I'm a big believer in when it's meant to be, it's meant 
to be," Gordon said. "You've got to work hard. You've got 
to prepare yourself and your team. And you know what? 
Jimmie and Chad [Knaus] and all those guys did a phenomenal 
job. 

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"I know how good my team was this year. They're one of the 
best teams I've ever been a part of. And for [Johnson] to 
come out 77 points ahead over 10 races [in the Chase] is 
very impressive. 

"We're certainly extremely proud of what we've accomplished 
this year -- it's been a great year. But we want another 
championship and we know we've got to beat Jimmie and guys 
like Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart and a lot of other guys 
if we're going to get us another one." 

Pondering that predicament may make Gordon look as if 
Grizzly bears were added to the racecar/bee/wolverine 
equation -- but Sunday evening, in less than 10 minutes 
after getting out of his car, 90 percent of which he spent 
answering question after question, save for a brief meeting 
with owners Rick and Linda Hendrick, Gordon looked remark-
ably recovered. 

Gordon's affection for his owners was obvious when, after 
nearly five minutes of media questioning next to his multi-
hued No. 24 Chevrolet on pit road, Gordon paused to greet 
the Hendricks. 

Rick Hendrick held Gordon in a long embrace and whispered 
briefly in his ear. Later, he said he told Gordon "that I 
was proud of him, and that he should take a lot of pride 
in making this happen." 

Gordon smiled when he responded, saying, "Congratulations, 
man -- thank you, I appreciate it; and I'm proud of you." 

Gordon, who throughout the race complained about a tight 
racecar and only expressed real disgust when he questioned 
a NASCAR call that placed him at the tail end of the lead 
lap under the first caution, said he could accept his fate 
this season, but with difficulty. 

"We have a lot to be proud of and happy about this year -- 
it's been a great year," Gordon said. "But it's bittersweet 
for us because to come up short, I've never been in this 
position before. 

"Every championship, well, I guess maybe in '04, but in 
all the other years when we've had the year like we had 
this year we've been the ones to go out there and put the 
pressure on the competition. 

"So it's a great learning experience for us and we're not 
done yet. We'll just try to go out there and do it next 
year." 

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To do that, Gordon certainly will have to deal with his 
teammates, who repeated as champions for the first time 
since Gordon accomplished the feat with his second and 
third of four titles, in 1997-98. 

Along with the Hendricks' meeting, one of the more poignant 
post-race moments came when Gordon pulled alongside Johnson 
on their cool-off lap, for a silent salute amidst a lot of 
exhaust clamor. 

"I would have just told him how happy I am for him 
[because] he deserves it," Gordon said of the message he 
would have spoken. "He's the best out there. He and his 
whole team literally are the best out there and they 
deserved it. 

"There is a reason why they were champions last year and 
there's a reason why they are champions this year. We gave 
them everything we had. We couldn't have asked for more out 
of ourselves to go out there and battle for this champion-
ship. 

"We put together one heck of a string of races the entire 
season and it just wasn't enough." 

And while Gordon said he looked forward to his first 
holiday season with his wife and daughter, he also said 
he faced the reality of a challenging future. 

"I mean, we just put together one heck of a total year, 
you know what I mean?" Gordon said. "On one side, you 
know I love the Chase, I love what it's all about and 
the entertainment aspect of it, and I know it's the best 
thing for the sport. But when I look at our whole year, 
it's a little tough." 

Gordon had more than a 300-point lead over Stewart going 
into the final race before the Chase. He lost all that 
and was 20 points behind Johnson entering the Chase. 

"I'm a competitor," Gordon said. "You know, I'm very 
happy for Jimmie and those guys, but I really wanted it 
for our team. I felt like [the 24 team] deserved it. 
They worked hard and did a great job this year. We came 
up a little short. 

"But it's been awesome, and there is nothing for us to 
hang our heads about. It's really been an amazing year." 

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Gordon hopes it's not his last, and he draws a lot of 
encouragement from the momentum averaging 5.1 for 10 
races -- plus finishing fourth at Homestead, definitely 
not one of his better tracks -- will bring for next 
season. 

"I'm so glad we ran good [Sunday night]," Gordon said. 
"That's the only thing that was really going to eat at 
me over the offseason is if we came out of here like we 
did last year and finished 25th or whatever. I would 
have been pretty disappointed. 

"Hey, we didn't lead a lap, but we fought hard. We gave 
them a good run and had a pretty good car there at the 
end." 

So Gordon hopes he does have more left in his tank. 

"Every race, every time you win a race, every time you win 
a championship you think, this could be the last," Gordon 
said. "We've heard Mark Martin say it forever -- but I know 
what he's saying, I know what he means. 

"You're so appreciative. You work so hard, and you really 
just never know when it's going to happen again. And that, 
to me, is the toughest part about this year for me, 
personally. I'm not getting any younger. 

"I put up about as good a numbers as I know how to put up, 
and it wasn't enough -- and that's tough to handle as a 
competitor -- as somebody that's been successful in this 
series in racing. So, definitely you've got to dig deep 
and find out [what happened]." 

And with everything Gordon had given to his team, and his 
teammate, in the end that's all he said he really wanted. 

"You know, I was very committed this year to this team to 
give them everything that I had, because I really want 
Steve Letarte to be a championship crew chief," Gordon 
said. "I think he's an awesome guy and deserves it. I felt 
like we had the team underneath us. 

"Now I'm just hoping we can enjoy this offseason and go 
into next season with the Car of Tomorrow, the Impala, and 
do what we need to do to take it up one notch." 

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END OF NASCAR NEWS 
Copyright 2007 by NextEra Media. All rights reserved.

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