In Jeff Gordon’s 700th career start at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway a few weeks ago, the 87-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner notched his 300th career top-five. But what does he remember about his third career top-five — a runner-up finish to Dale Earnhardt Sr. — in Gordon’s first attempt in the 600-miler at Charlotte Motor Speedway?
Gordon, whose first race in NASCAR’s premier series was the season finale in 1992, began his rookie campaign with a fifth-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500. In March, he would secure his second top-five with a fourth-place finish at Atlanta. Seven races later – and several crashes later – Gordon would post his first of 65 career second-place finishes when he followed “The Intimidator” across the line here 20 years ago.
“I forgot I ran well in that race,” said Gordon, who will drive a specially painted No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS Sunday that will feature stars and stripes in red, white and blue. “And I’m actually surprised I made it to the end. We must have hit on something that night.
“Actually, I probably just stopped hitting things!”
Charlotte Motor Speedway has been the site of several “firsts” for Gordon, including his first pole position (October 1993) and first victory (May 1994). Overall, the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has five wins, eight pole positions, 16 top-five finishes and 21 top-10s at the 1.5-mile track. But the 600-mile event here is like no other.
“The race starts during the day and the track changes a lot when the sun goes down,” said Gordon. “You have to be ready to stay on top of the adjustments – almost get ahead of them instead of getting behind on them.
“It’s a very long race, and I like long races because it suits my style. But the car has to be right.”
Gordon’s mindset for NASCAR’s longest race has changed over the course of 20 years.
“You can’t go into this race thinking ‘oh, we’re just going to cruise at the beginning and wait for the track to come to us,’” said Gordon. “That used to exist, but it doesn’t anymore.
“You start charging from the drop of the green flag.”