Throughout the years, the NASCAR racing Gods have always shown a great deal of generosity whenever the time has come to hand over the reins to the sport’s next big superstar. Whether it be every 10, 20, or even 30 years, there will always be a driver who will step up to the challenge that takes him beyond the normal realm of just being labeled as, “One of the guys.”
[media-credit name=”Sherryl Creekmore/NASCAR” align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]NASCAR garages from around the country are oozing with such talent, and it’s usually from these same garages where a driver will emerge who can defy the odds and take his racing career to the next level.
In a sport where some of the biggest names who have graced our asphalt gladiator rings have come from the south, in walked California native Jeff Gordon who felt ready to accept the challenge knowing the rewards would be worth its weight in gold. Gordon knew he would be facing a long and strenuous uphill battle, with his biggest clash being the fans who couldn’t find it in their hearts to accept a driver who was not born with the “southern blood” running through his veins.
Not long after his first Winston cup start, “the perfect storm” had already started brewing and Gordon found himself in the midst of its stranglehold. Along with the storm came the black cloud of doubt as driver after driver begin doubting Gordon’s ability to compete at a level he was not used to, which resulted in his tendency to push the cars too hard and crash. None of this stopped the California native from reaching the goals he set before himself, and before long Gordon made his first visit to victory lane during the 1994 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Gordon was well on his way to NASCAR stardom and it was attributed to the extra work he was willing to put in knowing that greatness can only be measured by the amount of enthusiasm that a driver can carry through all the hardship. Words alone cannot describe the amount of respect that he has earned throughout his very lucrative racing career and to say that he is anything less is absolutely ludicrous.
Gordon has shown how an everyday run-of-the-mill California boy can come into a sport that was dominated by the good old boys from down south and dominate every aspect of their beloved sport.
Gordon was truly an one-of-a-kind driver when he first entered what was then the Winston Cup Series, and one of his many characteristics that played a big role in him being successful was the methodical way he could pick apart his competition. Gordon learned patience along the way, which helped him to keep his composure with the result being the 82 victories he has in his win column.
When you look back at his career, which is continuing to stand the test of time, how can a fan not take to heart what Jeff Gordon has endured, while racing against some of the great drivers from the past, as well as the present. There is no other driver in the garage today, who comes close to the accomplishments that Gordon has already garnered and his numbers speak for themselves.
Gordon leads all active drivers with the most victories, and is currently sixth on the all-time winners list, and with one more victory he will tie Cale Yarborough in addition to Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison who are only one win away from the number three spot.
Will Gordon ever win 200 races or will he reach the seven championship milestone? Probably not, but with 15 short-track wins, 12 restrictor-plate wins and a record nine road-course wins, along with Homestead-Miami as the only track he hasn’t won at, these stats alone make him one the most versatile and greatest drivers of our time.
As father time continues to slowly creep up on one of NASCAR’s most prolific drivers, the drive for his fifth championship picks up where it left off after another disappointing and winless season.
During the off-season team owner Rick Hendrick announced that Alan Gustafson, crew chief from Mark Martin’s No. 5 GoDaddy.com team would take over for Steve Letarte, with Letarte moving over to teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gordon responded about the change saying that, “This just shows the kind of commitment we have at Hendrick Motorsports. You don’t make a move like this without hoping you’re making all the right ones. I feel really good about what we’re doing, and I feel like we’re going to win more championships. Things like this, led by Rick, are what get you there.”