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Evernham and Gordon reunion at Hendrick becoming a real possibility

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Evernham and Gordon reunion at Hendrick becoming a real possibility

Post  Rick#3 on Mon Nov 30, 2009 2:16 pm

As Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the rest of the No. 48 team head to Las Vegas to continue the celebration of their record fourth consecutive championship, some of the attention turns to 2010 and the big question; who will be able to challenge them next season?

That challenger may very well be the driver who is listed as his car owner and the only other active driver to share four titles, Jeff Gordon. And that challenge may be boosted with a reuniting of one of the most successful driver-crew chief combinations in NASCAR history, Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham.

Evernham and Gordon were one of the most powerful pairings, the Johnson-Knaus if you will, of the 1990’s. More than half of Gordon’s 82 career wins, 47, came under Evernham’s guidance, including three seasons of double-digit victories, 1996-98.

The duo also won three championships in four seasons: 1995, 97 and 1998. In fact Gordon came close to upstaging Johnson, becoming the first driver with four consecutive titles, nearly taking the championship in 1996. The turning point came in the fall race at Charlotte when Terry Labonte, who was second in points, dominated and won while Gordon suffered engine woes that left him in 31st. Gordon watched a 111-point lead evaporate and when the season ended, Gordon lost the title to Labonte by 37 points.

Gordon and Evernham went on to win the title the following two years. At the end of 1999 though, Evernham decided to strike out on his own as a team owner.

In their final season together, Gordon and Evernham won five races (Gordon had a total of seven victories that year, but two were after Evernham left in October, although the wins came in cars prepared by Evernham prior to his departure).

Gordon would go on to win another title (2001), and though he did win six races in 2007, there has only been one victory in the win column for the last two seasons.

Since he left Hendrick, Evernham enjoyed only moderate success with his own team. In 2007 Evernham gave up a majority share of Evernham Motorsports to George Gillett and the team became Gillett-Evernham Motorsports. Then in January of this year the team merged with Petty Enterprises becoming Richard Petty Motorsports.

After giving up majority ownership of the team, Evernham seemed to try and distance himself even to the point that there was even talk that he would perhaps step away from racing altogether. He eventually took on a role as an analyst for ESPN.

As Johnson and Knaus celebrate their fourth consecutive championship, many are talking about a ‘dynasty’. It’s the same talk that was heard in the latter half of the 1990’s when Gordon and Evernham dominated NASCAR.

What it will take to challenge the Johnson-Knaus domination is a crew chief who has the same mindset of Chad Knaus; someone who is willing to push the envelope, learn all the aero nuances of NASCAR’s latest generation of racecar and exploit them to gain every little bit of advantage they can. Knaus has been known to push the envelope to the very edge and on more then one occasion has crossed the line earning fines and suspensions from NASCAR.

During his time Evernham was also known for pushing the envelope, and on more then one occasion also drew the ire of NASCAR. In 1995, Evernham was fined $60,000 for an unapproved chassis part and in 1997 there was the famous ‘T-Rex’ Chevy that Gordon raced and won with, in the All-Star race. Shortly after NASCAR wrote rules that ensured the car would never race again.

Combine Gordon’s lack of performance over the last two seasons with Evernham’s desire to get back into racing and a reunion of the pair is certainly a real possibility.

When the 2009 season ended in Homestead, Evernham let it be known in several published reports that he would like to get back into day-to-day operations. He made no secret of the fact that he wants to give up his minority stake in Richard Petty Motorsports and be released from a non-compete clause he has in his contract with the organization. Evernham also revealed that while ESPN has offered a contract for next season, he has yet to sign it.

The pieces are falling into place and with Evernham’s skill and Gordon’s talent together again, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus could have some real competition in 2010.

And NASCAR could be in for quite a show.

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