Jeff Gordon is turning out to be quite the company man. He’s firmly supporting NASCAR even though its new rules are hurting his legacy.
Gordon has won four NASCAR Cup series championships—his last in 2001. Had it not been for NASCAR’s infatuation with a playoff format, he’d have won seven, tying Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. for tops all-time.
If NASCAR rewarded the champion on a straight-up points system for all races, Gordon would have won the series in 2004, 2007 and 2014. Instead, Gordon finished third, second and sixth.
All because in 2004, NASCAR, fearing interest in its series was waning, instituted the Chase—stock car’s version of the playoffs.
NASCAR tweaked the Chase format this year, making the last race an all-or-nothing dash for four drivers. Some love it. Some think it’s contrived. Others think it’s an ill-conceived effort to be like the stick-and-ball sports. As for Gordon, he’s sticking to the company line.
“I like it,” Gordon told Autosport.com after being eliminated from contention in the second-to-last race. “I think that there are some potential improvements that could be made, but it certainly created a lot of attention. It has made it more dramatic and intense, and I think that was the goal."
Gordon is certainly being a good sport. He’s also a smart businessman, and likely feels the Chase format is good business—for the series and by extension his team.
But there’s no denying his legacy would be a lot shinier if he stood alongside Petty and Earnhardt. And Gordon’s pursuit of title No. 8 would certainly create its own kind of drama—with or without a postseason.