JOLIET, ILL. (July 6, 2010) - He was not king that day - more of an afterthought. But Jeff Gordon has impressed since his NASCAR Sprint Cup career began 599 consecutive starts ago. In the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway in November of ...
JOLIET, ILL. (July 6, 2010) - He was not king that day - more of an afterthought. But Jeff Gordon has impressed since his NASCAR Sprint Cup career began 599 consecutive starts ago.
In the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway in November of 1992, "The King" Richard Petty drove his last competitive laps in NASCAR's premier division. That day also was highlighted by a close championship battle between Bill Elliott, Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison. Although Elliott won the battle (the race), Kulwicki won the war (the championship) by a scant 10 points.
Gordon's run that day was cut short after contact with the wall, and he is credited with a 31st-place finish - one position better than (current teammate) Mark Martin.
"I still remember Richard handing out a memento to each driver with our starting position on it during the drivers meeting - and I still have it today," said Gordon. "And it seemed the media and fans were constantly around him that weekend, yet I was in awe of how well he handled everything. It was a memorable weekend.
"A forgettable race for me, but definitely a weekend to remember."
Despite a rough beginning, Gordon's career has been one to remember heading into his 600th start. He is sixth on the all-time win list with 82 victories and fourth in all- time poles with 68. Gordon has collected 272 top-fives and 371 top-10's. To put that in perspective, the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet has 68 more top-fives than Kyle Busch has starts (272 - 204) and 62 more top-10's than Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson has starts (371 - 309).
"I've accomplished way more than I ever thought I would in this sport," said Gordon. "Everything else from here on is just 'icing on the cake.'"
And Gordon may be looking for more icing entering this Saturday night's LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway since it does not appear the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion is easing off the accelerator. Gordon has led 725 of the 5,516 laps he has completed this year, or 13.1 percent. That percentage is better than the 12.4 percent obtained throughout his career (21,463 laps led of 172,433 completed). And last weekend at Daytona, Gordon scored a series-high ninth top-five finish of the season to move up to second in the point standings.
"I think this DuPont team has what it takes to battle for race wins on any kind of track on any given weekend," said Gordon, who has one win, one pole, five top-fives and six top-10's in nine starts at the 1.5-mile Illinois track. "We're trying to win every weekend, and this weekend is no different.
"We want those bonus points that go along with wins, but we also know 'intermediate' tracks like Chicago make up half of the 'Chase' races.
"We know the mile-and-a-halfs are very, very important. If a team is focused on one type of track, this type would be it."
Helping call Saturday night's action for TNT will be Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach, two individuals that also participated in Gordon's first race. Although Gordon bested Dallenbach (38th) in Atlanta, Petty posted a 16th-place finish in that event 18 years ago.
And what about "The King?" He finished 35th in his final start. While Gordon may have bettered Petty in their only race, he knows he will never be "The King." But that does not mean he cannot be king for a day this Saturday.