21 years and 21 miles per hour

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 10:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, signs his autograph for a fan in the garage area following practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 10, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, NC – OCTOBER 10: Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, signs his autograph for a fan in the garage area following practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 10, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

CONCORD, N.C.— When Jeff Gordon was a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie in 1993, he won the pole for the fall Charlotte race with a top speed of 177.684 mph.

Twenty-one years later, in Thursday night’s time trials, Kurt Busch set a track record at 198.771 mph, more than 21 mph faster than Gordon’s 1993 pole speed.

Though the speeds today are dramatically faster, Gordon said he was pushing just as hard to run 177 mph as a rookie as he was to run 197 mph on Thursday.

“Back in 1994 and 1993 that was just unimaginable to be able to go through there so fast, Gordon said after a lap at 197.217 mph put his No. 24 Chevrolet on the outside of the front row for Saturday night’s Bank of America 500. “I remember always coming to Charlotte, and when the sun goes down and you go to qualify and they tape up the grille, how you just had to hold your breath and really push the limits and go for it.”

“It seemed like back then I was pushing just as hard, but we weren’t going as fast. Now the cars don’t go faster because they are on the edge and wrecking. They go faster because they are stuck really well. You still have to push the limits of the car. “To do that there is a lot of throttle and very little brake and carrying a lot of speed.”

Indeed, in race trim on Friday, Gordon carried speed in the final Sprint Cup practice, running fourth behind Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick in Happy Hour.

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