News & Media


Gordon roars past 40 with plenty of panache

August 06, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

LONG POND, Pa. -- After celebrating his 40th birthday on Thursday, Jeff Gordon wouldn't have minded holding on to 39 for just a little while longer.

At that age, Gordon finished second at Indianapolis last weekend, and won the last time the series visited Pocono Raceway in June. If life truly does begin at 40, Gordon's more than ready to keep adding wins to the 84 he has accumulated to this point.

Decade by decade

Gordon's numbers
Races20s30s
Wins5529
Top-fives141140
Top-10s179208
Championships31

"Every once in a while it kind of sinks in, but again it's just another day and it's been 40 great years. Especially after having that spectacular run at Indy, and the way we did it, it made for a great week."

--JEFF GORDON

Perhaps there's no other sport that rewards experience like stock car racing. No fewer than six drivers have won championships after reaching middle age. That list includes Lee Petty and Dale Earnhardt, who each won three titles after they turned 40. And Bobby Allison was almost 46 when he captured the 1983 championship.

Gordon -- coined "Wonder Boy" by Earnhardt when he broke into the sport and turned it on its ear as a fresh-faced kid of 21 in 1993 -- is now a graying-around-the-ears veteran. But he admits this birthday was different.

"My daughter came in in the morning, singing Happy Birthday to me," Gordon said. "That was very special. And throughout the day, you start thinking, 'Wow, I'm 40.'

"Every once in a while it kind of sinks in, but again it's just another day and it's been 40 great years. Especially after having that spectacular run at Indy, and the way we did it, it made for a great week."

Gordon came very close to adding win No. 85 last weekend but couldn't chase down Paul Menard in the closing laps at the Brickyard. It was yet another race decided in part by fuel mileage, a recurring theme this season.

"It seems to me like every weekend it's a factor," Gordon said. "Every weekend you have to consider, you have to think about it, and in some ways you have to plan for it. It all depends on where you're running and when the caution comes out.

"It seems like if you're in the top 10, you play tires and fuel and try to have a fast race car to drive to the front and win the race that way. If you're outside the top 10, then you kind of have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so you take the big risk on the fuel mileage."

It's only been seven weeks since Gordon's win, but he said the conditions are rarely the same between June and August.

"Even though it's a short period of time that goes by, it just seems like the track conditions are quite a bit different when we come here the second time," Gordon said. "The first time usually it's a little cooler and I don't know what it is, but the track just seems to have a little more grip.

"When we come the second time we just really struggle to get the grip in the car. It hasn't been really super-hot here. So far, it seems like the conditions are fairly similar to what we had the last time."

With that in mind, Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson brought a car with a similar setup to the one that won in June. That may not have been the best decision.

"We're pretty far off," Gordon said. "We looked at our notes from the last time we were here and we pretty much have the exact same situation. We struggled in practice for qualifying runs but we qualified really well."

Unfortunately for Gordon, Saturday's qualifying run wasn't at all what he wanted. He hit the wall with the right side of his car, ran a lap of 169.358 mph and wound up 31st. However, he's hoping things will be better in Sunday's 500-miler.

"When we went on our race runs, I thought we were pretty competitive," he said.

In 1990, 50-year-old Harry Gant became the oldest driver to win at Pocono, which leaves Gordon with another 10 seasons before he can eclipse that record. After all, Gordon already holds the record for youngest Pocono winner, when he was 24.

For Jeff Gordon, 40 truly is just another milestone.