Jeff Gordon knows nothing lasts forever -- not even the boos.
For years, they were aimed at The Kid in part for winning far too often. Now, there is a lowering of the sound that once drowned out the pre-race introductions after: ''In the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet ...''
Gordon hears more applause, something he jokingly calls ''the sympathy vote.''
''It's so funny how it works,'' he said. ''When somebody dominates they say 'We need somebody else.' When nobody dominates they say, 'Hey, we need somebody to dominate.'''
Few have dominated NASCAR they way he has since 1995. Gordon has led the Winston Cup circuit in victories an unprecedented five straight times -- including a record-tying 13 in 1998. But this year, he's far off the pace of his average of nearly 10 wins in the last five years.
One of his wins this year came June 25 at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. It was his sixth straight on road courses, extending his own record and matching Rusty Wallace and Bobby Allison for the most on serpentine tracks.
The victory took some of the pressure off -- for now.
''I think everybody said, 'If they can't win it on a road course, there's something wrong with them,''' Gordon said. ''We were able to pull it off.''
That pressure -- especially if Gordon fails to win in the next three races -- will be back when the circuit moves in August to the road course in Watkins Glen, N.Y. But new crew chief Robbie Loomis isn't worried.
''The pressure has been there since December when I walked into Hendrick Motorsports,'' he said. ''One thing I knew coming into it, I had the greatest driver out there. If I give him the car, I know we can get the job done.''
Because he is 10th in points, there is the perception that Gordon isn't doing well. Yet his four victories in the last 23 races is surpassed only by Tony Stewart's run of four in his last 19.
Gordon must live with talk that at 28 he's now just another good driver, that he hasn't been the same since crew chief Ray Evernham left in September to start his own team next year. Together, they won three series championships, and Evernham called the shots for the first 47 of Gordon's 51 career victories.
''Nothing lasts forever,'' Gordon said.
While it lasted, though, it was great.
Gordon was Rookie of the Year in 1993. Two years later, he won his first championship at 24, the second-youngest to claim the stock car racing's elite prize.
At the height of his run, Gordon was chidingly called Wonder Boy by fans who resented his quick rise in the tradition-laden sport.
Although he was easily the most recognizable star on the circuit -- thanks in part to a squeaky clean image promoted by the mainstream media and lucrative endorsement contracts with high-profile sponsors like Pepsi -- he was booed with enthusiasm.
Gordon wouldn't mind hearing a little more noise, but isn't depressed by the seeming silence. He understands much more about losing than most could imagine.
''A lot of people forget I've been racing since I was 5 years old,'' he said. ''I've lost more races than I've won.''
Win or lose, Gordon is still wildly popular. His car attracts the biggest crowds in the pits on race days. Fans clamor for his autograph.
But, Gordon realizes his profile is somewhat lower with the emergence of Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
''You have four outstanding years like we had, then when you don't, you're not measuring up in some people's minds,'' Gordon said.
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