Evernham expects Gordon to capture championship – Nascar
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Ray Evernham does more than just hope Jeff Gordon can close out his career by capturing a fifth NASCAR premier series title Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM). He expects it.
“Absolutely. No question,” Evernham said in a telephone interview with NASCAR.com earlier this week.
“All he has to do is be Jeff Gordon one more time. If he can take the 23 years of who he’s been and be that one more time, those guys are in trouble.”
Who Gordon has been is one of the sport’s most dominating drivers, with four championships — fourth most in series history — and 93 victories (third overall and tops among active drivers).
Evernham speaks from experience. From 1992, when Gordon made his premier series debut in the season-ending race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, through 1999, Evernham was the team’s crew chief, orchestrating a game plan that took the Hendrick Motorsports team, and Gordon, to the very top of the sport.
Standing between Gordon and a fifth title are three other drivers — defending series champion Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing), four-time race winner Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing).
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Gordon is the only driver to advance to the final round by winning one of the previous round’s three races — scoring a ninth career victory at Martinsville Speedway.
The winners of the remaining two Eliminator Round races were Gordon’s teammates, six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“I know (crew chief) Alan Gustafson and that group have worked incredibly hard on that car for him and I’ve always said you’re only limited by how much time you have to prepare,” Evernham said. “And I really believe that those guys have had more time to focus on that car than the other teams.
“Everybody else said they could (focus on Homestead) but they couldn’t.”
Harvick has been in this situation before, having survived the pressure cooker of a one-race championship battle last season. His results this season have been no less impressive.
Busch missed the season’s first 11 Sprint Cup races while recovering from a broken right leg and left foot suffered in the season-opening NASCAR XFINITY Series race to win four races in a five-race span.
A winner at Pocono, Truex has Chase experience and finished 10th or better in 14 of the season’s first 15 races with his single-car team based in Denver, Colorado.
A title by any of the four would be big. A win by Gordon, according to Evernham, would be huge.
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“If he pulls this off this weekend, this is just not a motorsports thing,” Evernham said. “This is a major sports story, one of the greatest sports stories of our lifetime.
“If you look at somebody who’s been able to be that competitive over 23 years, different cars, different rules, different things. It’s not like playing football or baseball. I get what (John) Elway and those guys did and that’s fantastic. But if you look at the changes he has had to deal with over the past 23 years, from the time that we rolled into Atlanta in November of 1992, our very first race, he’s never missed a race. And here he’s going into his last race to battle for the championship.
“To me, that’s not just a motorsports story, that’s an incredible sports story overall.”