- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

FORT WORTH, Texas | Jeff Gordon was on the verge of winning his fourth NASCAR championship as a driver when he made his debut as a co-owner and teammate for an unproven driver named Jimmie Johnson.

The two drivers have become good friends in the eight years since Johnson joined Hendrick Motorsports, with Gordon spending many hours explaining the finer points of stock car racing and offering plenty of advice to his eager pupil.

That investment of time has paid off but also come at a price.

As Johnson closes in on an unprecedented fourth consecutive Sprint Cup title, he remains the biggest roadblock to Gordon’s quest to win a fifth title.

Despite a crash last weekend at Texas that led to a 38th-place finish, Johnson still has a firm grip on the Chase for the Cup with a 73-point lead over Hendrick teammate Mark Martin.

While Gordon would enjoy winning another championship as a co-owner, it isn’t what keeps him driving the No. 24 car.

“It seems like 20 years ago,” he said of winning his last championship in 2001.

And as in many of those years since then, Gordon is again chasing Johnson’s No. 48.

Gordon was the runner-up to Johnson in the 2007 title chase by 77 points. This year he is 112 points back in third place after finishing 13th at Texas, where he was the polesitter nearly seven months after he had won there for the first time. Given Johnson’s crash, Gordon called his showing Sunday a “total missed opportunity.”

While the two are still friends and teammates, Gordon recently acknowledged that the competitive nature of their relationship has affected their friendship.

Gordon went on to say they would be better friends in 15 or 20 years, presumably when both are done racing.

“There’s no doubt that over the last few years competition has been more intense. We’ve been racing for championships,” Johnson said. “It was a lot easier when I was a rookie needing assistance and help. We spent a lot of time together then. I guess we were both single and not married at that point, too, having a lot of fun.”

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