Jeff Gordon exploded onto the NASCAR scene, paving the way for future young drivers and changing the impression of the sport in the minds of both corporate America and a new legion of fans.
Polished and successful, he crafted a new style of driver – one that fit in both the smaller communities where NASCAR raced and in the boardrooms of New York companies. Well spoken and clean-cut, he was valuable both behind the wheel, where he has won four titles, and to CEOs of companies sponsoring both his team and NASCAR.
He redefined the role NASCAR drivers could play beyond racing. Twenty years later, Gordon’s impact in the sport has only grown.
Personally, he’s a family man balancing his career with raising a daughter and a son. Professionally, he’s still a fierce competitor and spokesman. Rea White takes a look at Gordon’s top 10 NASCAR accomplishments.
Taming the curves
Gordon can win on any kind of track, as he’s proven over his career. He adjusts quickly and well to whatever curves are thrown his way, including those on the road courses at Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen, NY. It’s clear that anyone with numerous victories, such as Gordon, will have had success on a number of tracks. While the road courses are tougher than other tracks for some, they have become yet another site for Gordon to excel. He has nine road-course wins to his credit, including five at Infineon Raceway.
Proving his diverse talent, Gordon has managed the draft to his advantage time after time in points races at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway. He has 12 wins on these tough, fast tracks to his credit. He’s proven to have equal strength on both as well, earning six victories at Talladega and six at Daytona.
Gordon is third overall in career poles with 71 to his credit. Richard Petty is tops with 123 and David Pearson is second with 113.
At 24, Gordon became the second youngest Cup champion in NASCAR history (Bill Rexford is the youngest for winning the 1950 title at the age of 23) with his 1995 run. That year, Gordon earned seven wins and posted an average start of 5.0. His average finish of 9.5 vaulted him to the title. He posted 23 top-10 finishes, 17 of them top fives, in 31 races.
In perhaps one of the more underrated accomplishments of his career, Gordon is almost perfect on NASCAR tracks. He’s won on all but two of the tracks where he has competed in the Cup series. The openings on his record are Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the series has raced 13 times, and Kentucky Speedway, where it has raced twice. Gordon has nine top-10 finishes at Homestead in that span, though, and six of them are top fives. And he's been in the top 10 in both visits to Kentucky, so it seems to only be a matter of time before he makes this perfect.
Kiss the bricks, again
Gordon, who spent his teen years in Indiana, holds a special spot for Indianapolis Motor Speedway – and has enjoyed success there. The NASCAR debut there was highly anticipated and Gordon didn’t disappoint, winning the first NASCAR race run at the track in 1994. He’s since backed that performance up, winning there in 1998, 2001 and 2004.
It’s the season opener often referred to as “NASCAR’s Super Bowl.” And Gordon has hoisted its trophy three times. Gordon won under caution in 1997 after a multi-car accident marred the closing laps of the race. In 1999, with Dale Earnhardt trying to move inside or outside from second to challenge, Gordon held him off and took his second victory in the race. In 2005, Gordon made his move earlier and was shuffled back in the top five, then forced his way back to the front. He then passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. and held on for his third Daytona 500 win.
Gordon’s career win tally of 86 Cup victories is good for third on NASCAR’s all-time list. He has a ways to go to gain ground beyond that, though, as David Pearson is second with 105 victories and Richard Petty first with 200. Gordon also has five victories in what is now the Nationwide Series.
Champ, champ, champ, champ
Gordon entered the sport in an era when Dale Earnhardt was still on top of his game. He and crew chief Ray Evernham, though, changed who would be viewed as a dominant driver relatively quickly. In 1995, Gordon announced his presence by beating Earnhardt, who tabbed him Wonder Boy and toasted him with milk, by 34 points for the title. In 1997, he edged Dale Jarrett by 14 points. In ’98, it was Mark Martin by 364. And in 2001, he dominated again and beat Tony Stewart by 349 to take the title.
Show me the money
Gordon raised the bar on what a young driver could bring to the sport and to his sponsors. His talent and determination have netted him consistency and success in his 20-year Cup career. In terms of winnings, Gordon has amassed a stunning $126 million in Cup, tops all time among drivers.