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Gordon stands apart from Waltrip, Allison

September 06, 2011, Mark Aumann,

No. 24's victories came in less races, at earlier age than those that came before

Before Jeff Gordon took over sole possession of third place on NASCAR's all-time win list behind Richard Petty and David Pearson, he shared the spot with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison at 84 officially sanctioned wins. However, the three drivers -- two of which are already in the Hall of Fame and the other almost guaranteed to join them -- have careers less in common than you might think.

For example, while Waltrip and Allison scored their first Cup victories at age 28, by that age Gordon was already past the 50-win plateau. And Gordon made nearly twice as much money by winning the 2005 Daytona 500 -- nearly $1.5 million -- than Allison made in any entire season during his 25-year career.

Here's a comparison of how each of the three drivers reached key milestones in their careers:

Allison was still living in the Miami area when he began his Cup career at age 23, driving a Ralph Stark Chevrolet in the 1961 Daytona 500. He finished 20th in the points-paying qualifying race, earning $50. And he made it to the finish of the 500-miler, albeit 25 laps down, earning $200 for his 31st-place finish.

Allison's first win came five years later at Oxford, Maine, and scored his 25th victory at age 33 at Michigan. It took Allison seven more years -- and a move to Bud Moore -- to score win No. 50, coming at Charlotte in 1978.

However, Allison experienced an amazing resurgence from that point on, winning 25 races in the next five seasons, including his 75th victory at Dover in 1983. He would go on to win nine more times, the final one coming when he held off a late charge from his son, Davey, in the 1983 Daytona 500 to become the oldest driver to win NASCAR's premier event.

Allison made only 12 more starts before suffering severe head injuries at Pocono later that season. He finished with 446 top-10 finishes -- 336 of those in the top five -- in 718 career starts.

Waltrip was 25 when he bought a five-year-old-chassis and entered the 1972 Winston 500 at Talladega. He wound up blowing the engine and finished 38th, taking home a check for $680. Still, it was seven spots better than Allison, who was one of 12 drivers sidelined by engine trouble that day.

Three years later, Waltrip broke into the win column with a victory at his home track, Nashville. But it didn't take long for him to add to that total. Within five seasons, Waltrip was up to 25 wins -- that coming at Martinsville in 1980 for DiGard -- and when he was paired with Junior Johnson, Waltrip broke the 50-win barrier by age 35, again at Martinsville.

Waltrip was 42 when he achieved win No. 75 at Atlanta, this time driving for Rick Hendrick. And when he won at Darlington in 1992 at age 45 -- once again as a driver/owner -- it seemed he'd easily go past Allison and perhaps even challenges Pearson for second. But Waltrip made another 251 starts without adding to his win total, finishing with 390 top-10s in 809 career starts.

Gordon was a hot-shot Midwestern sprint car champion with only a couple of seasons in what was then called the Busch Series when Rick Hendrick signed the 21-year-old to drive one of his Chevrolets at Atlanta in the 1992 season-finale.

Gordon crashed and finished 31st, winning $6,285. But he returned the following February to record a stunning upset in his Daytona 500 qualifying race and the next season, won for the first time in the 1994 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Gordon had 25 wins by the time he reached age 25 and added another 25 to reach No. 50 by age 28, a pace only exceeded by Petty.

The next 25 were a little harder to accumulate, as Gordon was 34 by the time he won No. 75 at Chicagoland Speedway in 2006. But after passing Dale Earnhardt at Talladega in 2007 with his 77th win, Gordon found himself mired in the first extended drought of his exceptional career.

Gordon tied Cale Yarborough with his 83rd win at Phoenix early in the 2011 season and with his victory at Pocono in June, joined Allison and Waltrip. In 642 career starts, Gordon has 282 top-fives and 390 top-10s, and even more impressive, has amassed more than $120 million in earnings in less than 19 full seasons.