Jeff Gordon began the 1998 season as the defending Winston Cup champion despite losing 183 points of his 197 point lead over Dale Jarrett going between Talladega and the season finale in Atlanta.
Gordon started the season by missing a shift and blowing his engine in the Bud Shootout. He had one of the strongest cars in his Gatorade 125, but he decided to pit and ended up finishing 15th, forcing him to start 29th in the Daytona 500. Gordon had one of the fastest cars in the field, leading 56 laps, but had an engine problem and finished 16th. At Rockingham, Jeff ran horrible for the first quarter of the race, fighting just to stay on the lead lap. However, the Rainbow Warriors got Jeff's car handling well and he ran down and passed Rusty Wallace with 31 laps to go to win the spring race at Rockingham for the third time in four years. Gordon fought an ill handling car all afternoon at Las Vegas, finishing 17th. After another mediocre race at Atlanta, Gordon was 147 points behind Wallace in 7th place. Gordon started 24th at Darlington, but was one of the quickest cars on the track and got great pit work from the Rainbow Warriors. He followed Dale Jarrett around Jeff Burton late in the going in the TranSouth 400, and looked to able to get under Jarrett with three laps to go, but got caught behind Ernie Irvan and came up short.
In the Food City 500, Gordon ran in the top 5, but didn't seem to have enough car to battle Wallace and Terry Labonte. After Wallace cut a tire and crashed, the Rainbow Warriors got Jeff off pit road in front of Terry and the #24 held on to win the race. After being involved in the big lap 2 crash at Texas and an eighth place run at Martinsville, Gordon avoided the Big One at Talladega and was in position to pass Terry Labonte for the lead, but Bobby Labonte stayed with his brother, and Jeff lost the draft on his way to a fifth place finish. Jeff finished fourth at California, and was clearly the class of the field in The Winston before running out of the gas on the last lap. Gordon took four tires on the final pit stop in the Coca-Cola 600, while Wallace, Bobby Labonte, Jarrett, and Mark Martin took two tires. Gordon rocketed by Wallace with ten laps to go and won the race for the third time.
In the next three races, Gordon had three potential wins taken away. At Dover, he led 375 of 400 laps, but pitted for a splash and go with 8 laps to go and Jarrett won. At Richmond, he was passing Wallace for the lead when Rusty wrecked him, seemingly intentionally. After that, Jeff wouldn't finish out of the top 5 until Phoenix, race 31. At Michigan, Gordon dominated, but a mysterious debris caution(sounds familiar now, doesn't it) allowed Martin and Jarrett to overtake him and finish first and second.
Gordon finished second behind Jeremy Mayfield at Pocono, then won at Sears Point after a great battle with Bobby Hamilton. Gordon took the point lead from Mayfield at Sears Point, which he would never surrender. After a third at New Hampshire, Gordon left the field in his dust at Pocono and Indianapolis. After another win at Watkins Glen, Gordon went into Michigan with the chance to be the first driver since Martin in 1993 to win four races in a row. However, Jeff's win at Michigan and his next win at New Hampshire were shadowed in controversy. In both races, Gordon ran away from the field despite changing only two tires while the rest of the leaders changed four tires. Jack Roush thought Gordon's team added chemicals to the tires, but they were found innocent at Richmond.
Gordon won his fourth Southern 500 in a row at Darlington, then finished second to Burton at Richmond, second to Martin at Dover, and second to Ricky Rudd at Martinsville. After fifth at Charlotte, Gordon finished right behind Jarrett at Talladega, then held off Bobby Labonte, Mike Skinner, Mayfield, and Wallace for his 11th win of the season and first of his career in October. After his top 5 streak ended with a seventh in a rain shortened race at Phoenix, Gordon beat the dominant cars of Wallace and Jarrett at Rockingham, then dominated the rain affected NAPA 500 at Atlanta to end the season with 13 wins, 26 top 5s, 28 top 10s, and seven poles. He beat Martin, who won seven races, by 364 points after winning his first two championships by 34 and 14 points respectively. Gordon's 1998 season is one of the most dominant seasons in NASCAR history.
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