Jeff Gordon, six-time champion? No, sitting at four and almost OK with it

Jeff Gordon grabs the phone and groans … "Come on, man! Do you have to remind me?"

Of course he feels robbed, at least a little bit. How couldn't he?

The four-time Cup Series champion could -- and by the numbers would -- have six trophies had NASCAR not changed the manner in which it determines its champion entering the 2004 season.

Out went the old, methodical, sluggish method that rewarded consistency over a 36-race span -- the format Gordon used to obliterate the field on multiple occasions. In came a fresh playoff style that boasted a 26-race regular season, after which the points standings were reset, followed by a 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.

And the definition of NASCAR champion was an entirely different thing.

Gordon finished third in the inaugural Chase, 16 points short of champion Kurt Busch after averaging a 10th-place finish during the final 10 races. Under the old system, presuming the same 60-point advantage Gordon held over teammate Jimmie Johnson leaving Richmond, Va., and presuming the same finishing positions in each of the final 10 races, he would have won the '04 championship by 47 points.

And 2007 was even more disheartening. Gordon's advantage leaving Richmond last season would have been more than 300 points over Tony Stewart, yet Johnson won the Chase. Under the old system, Gordon would have run away with the title by a lopsided 353 points.

"I don't think about it," Gordon said. "All I know is I have four trophies that I'm very proud of. That's all I can focus on. If I wasn't content, and extremely happy with the way my career has gone, it'd bother me more. It's just something I don't focus on."

He pauses, shifts into high gear.

"But I do know the history of championships, and how they're won today, has definitely changed," he continued. "You can't compare my championships to Jimmie Johnson's championships or to anybody's who's won it in the Chase. It's such a drastic change."

Had that decision never been made, Gordon could -- and, again, by the numbers would -- be knocking at that hallowed door emblazoned with the Golden 7, signifying the number of championships won by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

Gordon has four, none since 2001. No other active driver has more than two.

"The key to this [argument] is this: If Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, with their seven championships, are known as the greatest of all time, and have seven apiece, I don't see how you can compare any champions once the Chase started," Gordon says. "It's just not possible.

"And I'm not taking anything away from the Chase at all. What Jimmie's done is unbelievable. It's equally as impressive as what any other champion has done. But you can't compare the two."

Traditionalists hated the concept initially. Many still do. Don't count Gordon among that contingent. Though no one person's legacy has suffered more from it, Gordon is a "huge supporter" of the Chase.

Jeff Gordon

I feel slightly robbed. How can you not? Facts are facts. I'm not saying I don't feel like I didn't get robbed, I'm just saying I don't focus on it.

-- Jeff Gordon

"I want to win one. Badly," Gordon said. "To me the Chase is hard. I haven't won one so to me it's more impressive to win under the Chase format than under the old one. [Johnson] thinks it's harder to win under the old system because he won the Chase and not the old system.

"I think there are pressure points to both. Winning it over 36 races, you see the team that really controlled the season and did the best job."

The Chase, from Gordon's perspective, hasn't yet produced a questionable champion. If it does is when the real scrutiny will come.

"While we haven't seen it yet, as soon as a guy wins the Sprint Cup championship by coming from behind -- and being an underdog and just [barely] making it into the Chase, and goes on to win it -- until that happens, you're really not seeing that much of a difference," Gordon said.

"But when that does happen, that's when this format will take on a whole new meaning."

Gordon doesn't feel cheated. He's had a legendary career. But six versus four?

"I feel slightly robbed. How can you not?" he said. "Facts are facts. I'm not saying I don't feel like I didn't get robbed, I'm just saying I don't focus on it."

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.