By AMANDA VINCENT
Jeff Gordon used the think Ricky Rudd and Terry Labonte were old. Now, he puts himself in that same “old” category. That makes sense since when he takes the green flag for the Sylvania 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, he’ll surpass the record held by Rudd then Labonte that made him see those racing veterans as old. At New Hampshire, Gordon became NASCAR’s new “iron man” with the most-consecutive race starts at the Cup level at 789.
“I remember when Ricky Rudd did that and Terry Labonte and other guys that had these incredible records and streaks,” Gordon said. “I thought, man they are old. I will never be around long enough to set that record or achieve that. Now, here I am. Yeah, I’m old, too, but now I appreciate what those guys did and the effort they put into it and the commitment.”
Gordon tied Labonte’s record of 788 a week ago at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
Gordon began his Sprint (then-Winston) Cup career at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the final race of the 1992 season. Also worth noting — that race was the last for NASCAR Hall of Famer and seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty.
Gordon has had perfect attendance ever since. He did think his perfect attendance record was in jeapordy once last season, though, when he was sidelined by back spasms for a practice session for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway last May. But with therapy and injections, Gordon was ready to go come race time.
“I think, now, looking to see where I am and looking back on it (his start in the Cup Series), I recognize my commitment,” Gordon said. “My commitment has been there for many years, long before I even got to the Cup Series. You have to understand, if you are a sprint car racer, you are racing 100 times a year. Coming into the Cup level and racing 30 times a year, now 38 times a year (including exhibition events), and it’s a lot more work that goes into 38 weeks than what went into 100 races in a sprint car. But still, to me, if there was a race and I was scheduled to do it, then I was going to do everything I could to be healthy and to be focused and to give 100 percent. I think just by having that mindset and that effort, that is what got me here.”
That commitment has since gotten him four Cup titles, in addition to 92-career wins, placing him third on the all-time wins list behind Petty and another Hall of Famer David Pearson. He is winless, so far, this season, but nonetheless, is one of the 16 competitors in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup. His most recent four wins came in 2014, the latest of those coming in the fall race at Dover (Del.) International Speedway last year.
Prior to the start of the current season, Gordon announced that 2015 would be his final year of full-time Sprint Cup competition. With nine races remaining this season, including Sunday’s race at NHMS, Gordon’s string of consecutive starts is expected to grow to 797 by the time he climbs out of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the final time after the checkered flag at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. The No. 24 HMS entry has been his Sprint Cup ride since that first race in 1992.
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