It’s been said in NASCAR that while one era ended during the Winston (now-Sprint) Cup season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1992, another one began. As Richard Petty was running his last race, another young driver was making his series debut. That young driver was Jeff Gordon, behind the wheel of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. That debut wasn’t all that spectacular of one, as Gordon finished a lackluster 31st.
The driver the late Dale Earnhardt would soon be calling “Wonder Boy” went full-time in 1993, and has been a fixture at the track and behind the wheel of the No. 24 Chevrolet ever since. He hasn’t missed a race since that first start in Atlanta in November 1992, and when the Sprint Cup Series takes the green flag for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway on Saturday night, it’ll mark the 700th-career Cup start for Gordon.
“I’ve been fortunate to race this long and have the type of career I’ve had,” Gordon said. “It’s really cool to see that this will be my 700th start, but it’s not something I really paid attention to. It’s hard to believe I’ve run that many – especially consecutively.”
Gordon’s not considered “Wonder Boy” anymore. Today, he’s one of the veterans of the sport, and a winning one at that. In the year’s since, Gordon has claimed four Cup titles and climbed to third on the circuit’s all-time win list behind NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and David Pearson.
Gordon claimed his first Cup win in 1994 in NASCAR’s longest race of the year, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He wound up with two wins that year. A season later, he added seven more victories to his tally and claimed his first Winston Cup. That first championship year of 1995 set off a four-year span in which Gordon made 47 trips to victory lane, including 13 wins scored in 1998. That 1998 season produced Gordon’s third Cup title, and the second of two-straight, adding to a championship won in 1997. Gordon’s fourth and most recent championship came in 2001.
The first 699 Cup starts for Gordon have produced 87 wins, 299 top-fives and 416 top-10s. With his most recent two wins coming just last season and his two most recent top-fives coming in the 10 races that have been run so far this year, Gordon, the driver with a lifetime contract from car owner Rick Hendrick, doesn’t look to be ready to slow down. And he’s not exactly slow at Darlington. As a matter-of-fact he’s the winningest active drivere at Darlington with seven trips to victory lane to his credit.
“I always look forward to racing here,” Gordon said. “It’s a great track that is fast and exciting, but it’s one you must respect. We’ve run well here the last couple of times, so I’m looking forward to the event.”
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR