“I Regret That”- Jeff Gordon Reveals Unfulfilled Racing Desire as He Defends NASCAR’s Controversial Format

Published 10/30/2023, 4:18 AM EDT

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The NASCAR postseason is coming to a close soon. The conclusion of Sunday’s race at Martinsville marks the onset of preparations for the championship race. Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell, and William Byron will lock horns in the season finale at Phoenix. Amidst all this, many big names have missed the opportunity to fight for the title. The latest ones to join the club would be Martin Truex Jr and Denny Hamlin.

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The elimination of these superstars stems from the format of the championship. Ever since NASCAR introduced the playoff format with the elimination of four drivers with each passing round, there has been a sense of controversy around it. Former Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon is a remnant of the former generation of drivers that have seen NASCAR change the format. After seeing the chaos that comes with it, his mind is filled with one regret.

Jeff Gordon believes his style of racing was suited to the previous championship format

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The 2023 season is the 20th successive season of NASCAR undergoing a postseason. The first instance of NASCAR going with the playoff format was in 2004 following Matt Kenseth‘s championship win. Kurt Busch won the first edition of the revamped NASCAR championship in 2004. Since those days, fans have been divided about how the competition works.

Jeff Gordon, who has won 4 Cup Series titles, peaked in the days before the playoffs. The new format expanded the field to 16 drivers and brought in four new rounds that added a suspense-filled build-up to the season finale. While the playoff format eliminates some big guns from contention, there is also a toning down of competition in the field, with only three drivers to trounce in the finale. As per Gordon, the previous format of accumulating points was a better fit for him, who relied on consistency instead of moments.

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“I mean, you erase the format. I certainly felt like my style was better under the old format, and we can debate it,” claimed Gordon. “But I also think that this format is the best thing for our fans and for the sport to grow and where it is today. It makes it tough; I mean, you know Larson was on this out in the last one, and you have to survive Talladega and Roval. You know it’s not always ideal, and that’s what makes it unique is this round’s what your strengths and weaknesses were.”

Jeff Gordon does have four championships to back his claim. Fending off Dale Earnhardt Sr in his days of racing was already a monumental task. To add, the complication of playoffs could have been detrimental to him. But with that, the question arises: how would he perform in the modern playoff format alongside eliminations?

Gordon would be Cup Series’ record championship winner had the previous format prevailed

The first season to implement elimination through the playoffs was in 2014. Kevin Harvick was the first driver to win the championship under the new format. The old structure was purely based on the points tally of a driver. The driver with the highest points at the end of the season would end up taking the trophy home. Had NASCAR continued with this format, Harvick would have the same number of championships as Gordon: 4. But that is not the case here.

Harvick racing in the older format means that the same rules apply to the HMS chairman as well. Going by that logic, since 2004, Gordon would have three more championship wins in his resume. He gathered the most points in 2004, 2007, and 2014. Record-time winner Jimmie Johnson would have three titles, and the people’s champ, Carl Edwards, would have two.

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Gordon then highlights the procedure during the early 2000s when Jimmie dominated the scene and lists his one regret. He stated,

“You could even go back to the championships. Jimmie won where it was the full 10 races. Those ten tracks seem to line up better for some others than it did, maybe for you, but I regret that I never won a championship under that format, right? That’s what it is, and you got to figure how to step it up. That’s what you do all year long is figure out how do you survive the bad days and capitalize on the good days.”

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The stark difference between the results of these two approaches is easily visible. It is understandable as to why Jeff Gordon regrets not having won a championship in the new format. Adding three more titles under your belt is no small achievement.

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Written by:

Ansuman Abhisek

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Ansuman Abhisek is a NASCAR Author at EssentiallySports. With a strong affinity for automobile design, it didn't take long for him to translate that into his love for the sport. He is a big admirer of Kyle Busch and believes that the Richard Childress Driver still has his best years ahead of him along with his ability to walk the talk.
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Edited by:

Ariva Debnath

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