DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Usually, Jeff Gordon wins about 10 races per year. He repeatedly wins when prestige and big money are at issue and, continually, he wins at Darlington. That's the story going into this weekend's Pepsi Southern 500...
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Usually, Jeff Gordon wins about 10 races per year. He repeatedly wins when prestige and big money are at issue and, continually, he wins at Darlington.
That's the story going into this weekend's Pepsi Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway and it's about the same story that was being told this time last year.
Going into Darlington one year ago, Gordon had eight wins to his credit. His final two wins of the season were at Darlington and New Hampshire, respectively. Gordon won at New Hampshire last weekend. In other words, he's in almost the same position he was in last year, except last year the race at New Hampshire was run after the race at Darlington.
At Darlington last year, Gordon was going for The Winston Million, a $1 million bonus offered to any driver who wins three of four specific races in one season. And indeed Gordon drove his DuPont Automotive Finishes Chevrolet to victory, claiming the cash. He and Bill Elliott have been the only drivers to capture The Winston Million in 11 years. The format was changed for 1998, NASCAR's 50th anniversary year.
This year R. J. Reynolds has created the Winston No Bull 5. The prize is still $1 million, but now there is the opportunity to win it up to five times in one year and, no surprise, Gordon was the first to take it when he won the Brickyard 400.
"The folks at Winston keep joking with me about taking all of their money," said Gordon. "What they do for our sport at all levels of NASCAR racing is unbelievable."
Also at this time last year, Gordon was in a heated battle for the championship which he has been, invariably, for the last four years. Currently, he leads the points race by 67 over second-place Mark Martin and 238 over third-place Dale Jarrett. Last year he led Martin by 25 and Jarrett by 168 points going into Darlington.
As far as racing at Darlington? Repeatedly, Gordon does well here. In his last six visits to the 1.366-mile oval, Gordon has four wins, one second and one third-place finish. When he wins here, it's normally in the fall. He's won the last three Southern 500's, a Winston Cups Series record.
"This weekend we will race just like we do every weekend. First and foremost, we are racing for the championship and with Martin and Jarrett right there week in and week out we can't lose that focus. If we take our concentration off the race for the championship, we'll lose it.
"Yeah, it would be great to win the Winston No Bull 5 this weekend, but as long as we come away with a top five, I'll be happy." Gordon has won five of the last six races, including four in a row which ties the record for the most consecutive wins. He has 17 top-fives and 18 top- 10's, for an average finish of 7.41.
Does the remainder of the season hold more of the same? Well, the usual 10 could turn into a modern era record of 14 season wins, the usual million- dollar bonus could end up an unprecedented $3 million, and the usual win at Darlington could be the usual win at Darlington.