A long career in racing doesn’t always translate in one of the most successful but that is certainly true for Jeff Gordon.
When Gordon starts Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he will pass Ricky Rudd as the Sprint Cup Series as the driver with most consecutive starts with 789.
Nearly 23 full years without missing a race
Gordon, a four-time Cup series champion in his final year of competition, has not missed a start since making his Cup debut on Nov. 15, 1992 – a span of 22 years, 10 months and 12 days.
“I think now looking to see where I am and looking back on it, I recognize my commitment. My commitment has been there for many years, long before I even got to the Cup series,” Gorond said. “You have to understand if you are a sprint car racer you are racing 100 times a year. Coming into the Cup level and racing 30 times a year, now 38 times a year, and it’s a lot more work that goes into 38 weeks than what went into 100 races in a sprint car.
“Still, to me, if there was a race and I was scheduled to do it then I was going to do everything I could to be healthy and to be focused and to give 100 percent. I think just by having that mindset and that effort that is what got me here.”
A stellar record
Along the way, Gordon, 44, has amassed one of the most impressive resumes of any NASCAR driver in the history of the sport.
Gordon has won four championships – the most recent in 2001 – and earned 92 wins, 323 top-five and 467 top-10 finishes in 788 starts. He has also won 80 poles.
Gordon and his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports have yet to register a win this season but he did qualify for the championship Chase. Entering Sunday’s race, he is 12th in the series standings and is a three-time winner at New Hampshire – tied for the lead among active drivers.
The “Iron Man” record is one Gordon never considered he would break.
“I remember when Ricky Rudd did that and Terry Labonte and other guys that had these incredible records and streaks. I thought, ‘Man, they are old. I will never be around long enough to set that record or achieve that.’ Now, here I am,” he said.
“Yeah, I’m old too, but now I appreciate what those guys did and the effort they put into it and the commitment.”
Will it last?
Asked what contributed most to the “Iron Man” record, Gordon said his decision to join Hendrick Motorsports.
“It was to make a decision to go to an organization that has provided the kind of equipment that they have provided me. I never had to think twice about whether I was going to have a ride. It was how good of a performance or result are we going to get that day,” Gordon said.
“I’ve never had to worry about whether we had a sponsor or not. We have always been very secure in that instance. There are plenty of people that put a lot of effort into it, but maybe just hadn’t had the fortunate circumstances that I’ve had over the years. That is one of the things that stands out to me.”
Gordon wonders if all the safety enhancements made to cars and race tracks over the last 10 to 15 years will impact drivers’ decisions on how long they plan to race competitively.
“Will they not race as long and they not get to it? Or will they blow this number out of the water and it won’t even be significant?” he said. “I don’t know.”