Darlington II: Jeff Gordon preview

A win at Darlington can place Gordon on top of an elite list DARLINGTON, S.C. - Sunday's 54th running of the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway could host a record-breaking weekend for Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont ...

A win at Darlington can place Gordon on top of an elite list

DARLINGTON, S.C. - Sunday's 54th running of the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway could host a record-breaking weekend for Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, as he attempts to win his sixth Southern 500 at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped track.

In 1982, Cale Yarborough entered the record books by winning his fifth Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. For 20 years, Yarborough held that position alone until Gordon joined the ranks in 2002. With five wins (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2002) recorded in the fall race, Gordon can surpass another milestone which holds prestige in the world of racing.

"When you are doing things that Cale Yarborough, David Pearson and Dale Earnhardt did throughout their careers, it obviously means a lot to you," Gordon said. "To be able to do something that they never accomplished is even more incredible.

"What impresses me so much about what we've been able to accomplish at Darlington is, when you look at the names of the drivers who were so good here, they were all such big names in the sport. A lot of them were Winston Cup champions. Certain teams and certain drivers have always been able to run well here."

With a 5.95 starting average at Darlington, better than any other driver, Gordon has three poles, 11 top-fives, 14 top-10's and has led a total of 1,378 laps at Darlington. He also recorded a victory in the spring race at Darlington in 1996.

However, Darlington Raceway presents a challenge to drivers and teams as they must approach qualifying differently than the actual race.

"You have to separate the race from qualifying," Gordon said. "You have to be aggressive in qualifying - with your driving style and the car's setup - but you need to compromise during the race. You have to compromise between first and second turns and the third and fourth. You must be smooth and stay out of the wall.

"I love the fact that you can run close to the wall. You have to be patient with the track.

"It's a place when we seem to do everything right we do well but to do everything right all day long is extremely tough."

After a long and tumultuous second-half of the NASCAR Winston Cup season for the No. 24 DuPont team, Gordon hopes that a win in the final Labor Day event at Darlington will turn the remainder of the season around.

The Mountain Dew Southern 500, a southern tradition on Labor Day weekend since 1950, will be run in November instead of Labor Day for the 2004 NASCAR season.

"It will feel different going there during a different time of year, but what the track means to the sport will never change," Gordon said. "I don't look at the dates a race falls on as much as I look at the track at what it means to the sport.

"And a win here would mean a lot to this team right now."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Cale Yarborough , David Pearson