With just 85 more days to Daytona, the focus can be on none other than Jeff Gordon’s 85th historic win this season. With his 85th victory, Gordon moved from being tied with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip to sole position in third on the all-time career win list.
[media-credit name=”Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images” align=”alignright” width=”224″][/media-credit]Gordon also joined even more elite company, now behind Richard Petty, with 200 career victories, and David Pearson, with 105 career wins. The Hendrick Motorsports driver earned his 85th win at the track where he made his Cup debut in 1992.
The historic 85th win also came with some drama as weather wreaked havoc with the AdvocCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway that weekend this season. Gordon scored the historic 85th after a two-day rain delay and by surviving a race delayed by several showers, as well as several late-race wrecks.
In fact, Gordon’s historic win came in an historic race, as the AdvoCare 500 was only the second Cup race since 1978 to run on a Tuesday. The race was originally scheduled for Sunday evening, but Tropical Storm Lee forced the two-day rain delay.
While Gordon led 146 of the 325 laps during the Tuesday race and was out front for the final 38 laps, the finish was more than challenging. And it was none other than his teammate, nemesis and five-time champ Jimmie Johnson battling him for the race win at the end.
Gordon was so intent on holding off Johnson to win the race, that he totally lost track of his historic 85th.
“I totally forgot about that,” Gordon said in Victory Lane on receiving a special plaque from NASCAR saluting his 85th win. “Eighty-five, wow. That is unbelievable.”
“We really used the car up at the end,” Gordon continued. “I was slipping and sliding. It was a lot of fun racing with Jimmie (Johnson).”
While securing his 85th, Gordon was also at that time primarily focused on making the Chase for the Championship and a run at his own fifth title. With his 85th victory and third win of the 2011 season, he also scored sole possession for the fifth spot in the point standings.
“I’m just blown away by the kind of day we had; the kind of year we’re having,” Gordon said. “I just feel rejuvenated in such a big way.”
Gordon’s crew chief Alan Gustafson shared his driver’s sentiments, but also admitted that he had been worried going into the 1.5 mile Atlanta race track.
“This was one of the race tracks that we felt like, to be an elite team and contend for the championship, we’ll have to do well on these styles of tracks,” Gustafson said. “There were times when I felt like we were going to win the race and times that we were 10th and it look like it was going to rain out.”
“That’s all Jeff Gordon right there,” Gustafson said of his driver and his historic 85th win.
There was other drama on the race track that might have impacted Gordon’s historic 85th win, however, the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger managed to stay out of the fray. Involved in ‘Boys have at it, Atlanta style’ were Juan Pablo Montoya and Clint Bowyer, the former sending the latter into the wall, damaging his Chase hopes.
After that encounter, Bowyer had a few choice names for JPM, as well as saying it was impossible to race around him.
“We’re out here racing for a spot in the Chase,” Bowyer said. “He’s racing for nothing.”
In addition to dodging the wrecks at race end, Gordon also had to survive a very close finish to score his 85th career victory. He won by just about half a second, 0.598 seconds to be exact, over his teammate Jimmie Johnson, who at the end of this race took over the top spot in the Chase standings.
Johnson was running so fast at the end trying to catch Gordon that he literally was sideways coming to the checkered flag.
“I’m so glad I grew up racing on dirt,” Johnson said. “I could have spun out four or five times at the end. To race that hard, that sideways at 180 mph, lap after lap, is a good time.”
“That was fun,” Gordon said of his Atlanta win and his 85th career victory. “We’ve been able to send a message of how strong this team is and just how good our race cars are.”