DOVER, Del.—With all the jockeying for Chase positions in the middle of the field, it was difficult at times to focus on what was happening at the front of the field in Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.
At the end of the day, Jeff Gordon took the checkered flag for the 92nd time in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career and took another stride toward a milestone everyone—including Gordon—once thought was untouchable.
Make no mistake. Gordon already is in rarified air when it comes to his accomplishments in stock car racing. With 92 victories, he’s third on the all-time list. He’s a four-time series champion with an abiding hunger for a fifth title. He’s a shoo-in for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
And he’s now within sight, at least, of David Pearson’s 105 career Cup wins, second all-time.
A few scant years ago, catching Pearson was the furthest thing from Gordon’s mind. He was having some serious issues with his back. Gordon and wife Ingrid added to their family with the births of daughter Ella and son Leo.
Gordon wasn’t particularly fond of NASCAR’s Gen-5 platform, introduced into the Sprint Cup Series in 2007 as the Car of Tomorrow. And, when asked, he would dismiss Pearson’s milestone as an impossibility.
Now, it seems that only Richard Petty’s unassailable series-record 200 victories is out of reach. Through treatment and exercise, Gordon’s back is better. NASCAR’s new Gen-6 race car better suits his driving style, especially since the implementation of the no-ride-height rules this year.
Gordon has bonded with crew chief Alan Gustafson, and together they have found top-of-the-line speed in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Despite his superstar status within NASCAR racing and the crossover appeal that makes him a comfortable fill-in co-host with Kelly Ripa, for example, Gordon isn’t above team-building within his organization.
Two days before the AAA 400, after a hair-raising qualifying lap at the Monster Mile, Gordon spent the evening at a local Dover fish house with Gustafson and his crew. Wearing a T-shirt and baseball cap and sitting inconspicuously at a family-style table, Gordon was just one of the guys.
On the track on Sunday, he was an opportunist. Kevin Harvick was the class of the field, but mechanical issues bit Harvick’s No. 4 Chevrolet as they often have since his last victory at Darlington in April. Gordon seized the moment, passed Brad Keselowski for the lead on Lap 305 of 400 and controlled the balance of the race.
As he invariably does, Gordon deflected talk of reaching the century mark in victories.
“I’m going to tell you the same thing I say every time I’m sitting here after a win: It’s awesome to have 92, and I look forward to challenging for 93,” Gordon said in the Dover media center. “I can’t even think about 100 until we get to 99.
“I mean, I never dreamed in a million years that I would be here talking to you after 92 wins, and especially at this point in my career, this many years in the sport, to be having the year that we’re having, it’s just something I never thought could happen. It feels amazing, and right now if I felt like we could stay this competitive for the next several years, I would say, yeah, we could get there.”
But Gordon, of course, has a more immediate goal.
“We’re just laser-focused on this championship and going to the next race,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to get to 100 this year, but I hope we get past 93. That would be pretty awesome to get a couple more, and it almost takes a win to get to Homestead. That’s our goal, getting to Homestead, whatever it takes.”
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