With the big story this season being Jimmie Johnson?s unprecedented fourth consecutive Sprint Cup title, I got to thinking...this could have been the second time a driver has accomplished that feat. Jeff Gordon almost won four in a row from 1995-?98, if only ?96 had turned out a little better...
Jeff Gordon could've easily been the first driver to win four consecutive titles.
Jeff won the Winston Cup championship in 1995, 1997, and 1998; three out of four years. Had he won it in ?96, that would?ve made him the first ever driver to four-peat. He finished second in the standings that year, just 37 points behind champion ?Terry Labonte.
Believe it or not, he was leading the standings with only four races to go, 111 points up on Terry. Coming off a three-race winning streak (and the final race at North Wilkesboro Speedway), Jeff looked set to win his second NASCAR title. But engine problems that led to a 31st-place finish the next week at Charlotte, coupled with Labonte?s win at that race, cut almost all those points off his lead. Gordon left Charlotte with a slim one-point margin over Labonte with three races to go.
At Rockingham the next week, Jeff had a good car, but he became trapped a lap down and was never able to gain it back, ultimately finishing 12th. He lost the points lead to Terry, who finished third that day. Jeff was looking at a 32-point deficit with two races left on the schedule.
Phoenix didn?t help Jeff?s chances at rebounding, as he finished fifth to Terry?s third-place showing. This again allowed Labonte to widen his lead in the points to 47 as they entered the final race of the season at Atlanta. Not only was Jeff trying to catch Terry for the title, he was also hoping to keep third-place Dale Jarrett behind him, as he was within 100 points of both drivers.
In the season finale, both drivers led multiple laps to snag bonus points, but Jeff was only able to gain ten points on Terry, finishing third while Terry was fifth, ultimately coming up short for the Winston Cup championship. Terry?s brother, Bobby, won the race that day, and the brothers both celebrated as winners.
My point is, had Jeff not had the problems he did, even if one race had turned out different, he would?ve won the title in 1996, then gone on to win in ?97 and ?98, becoming the first four-peater. And, Jimmie Johnson would have had a partner to share this record with...
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