At 90 wins, Gordon shows no signs of slowing
July 29, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
Jeff Gordon's fifth victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday was not only historic in its place on one of racing's greatest stages, but also for the new win tally -- 90 -- it rolls up for this certain future NASCAR Hall of Famer.
Ninety wins during the two most competitive eras in the sport's history is impressive in a way that cannot be overstated enough. And the 42-year-old Gordon -- who also leads the current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship standings -- is not done.
For the first time in recent memory David Pearson's 105 wins, second all-time to Richard Petty's 200, is a reasonable -- albeit lofty -- goal. And because of the competitive nature of NASCAR's "now" generation, Gordon and possibly Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, who stands at 69 victories, will be the only drivers among their peers with any legitimate shot at the longtime mark.
But that's getting ahead of ourselves and not doing due justice to what Gordon has already accomplished.
How impressive is four-time champ Gordon's body of work?
• We can start at Indianapolis, where his fifth triumph puts him in an elite class at one of racing's most storied and difficult tracks, joining only Formula One great Michael Schumacher (five United States Grand Prix wins) and surpassing Indy 500 legends Al Unser, Rick Mears and A.J. Foyt, who have four Indy victories. Teammate Johnson also has four Cup wins at the track.
• Gordon's 90 wins over three decades have come against many of the sport's great former drivers and so many of its current great drivers -- some of whom, like 21-year-old super talent Kyle Larson, consider Gordon a childhood hero.
They are the most ever in NASCAR's Modern Era (1972-present), and the span of success came racing against the late, seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt in his prime as well as Hall of Famers Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace. Gordon has had to compete against Mark Martin, Terry Labonte and recent Hall of Fame selection Bill Elliott, and he continues to add to his trophy case while competing against six-time champion Johnson, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski.
• Gordon's feat of three consecutive seasons (1996-98) with 10 wins is something not even accomplished by Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Wallace or Earnhardt. Petty was the last. He had five consecutive between 1967-71, all coming in seasons with 48 or more races.
• Petty had 18 straight seasons (1960-77) with at least one victory. Gordon had 14 consecutive between 1994-2007. Only Stewart's current run of 15 is better among active drivers.
• Gordon already holds the record for most consecutive seasons winning a pole position (21), eclipsing Pearson's 20 and Petty's 18.
• Not only does Gordon win frequently, he wins when it counts. In addition to his four championships, Gordon has wins in every one of NASCAR's major races -- including three Daytona 500 wins (most among active drivers), six Southern 500 wins, five Brickyard 500 wins, and three Coca-Cola 600 victories. And he has won at every track on the schedule except Kentucky, where there have been only four Sprint Cup races.
I vividly remember watching Gordon's face during preseason media tour interview opportunities in January and February when he was routinely asked about retirement. Always gracious, he would smile politely and demur. He joked about going out on top with the 2014 Sprint Cup Series championship trophy.
Nearly every week this season, even as he collects wins and leads the standings, Gordon is questioned about his retirement plans.
And every time the question is raised there is a certain, unmistakable twinkle in his eye that originates from an often underestimated competitive spirit deep in his heart.
It's not a question of when Gordon will stop racing, but how long he can continue winning.
He probably felt pretty good about that answer Sunday driving his No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet into Victory Lane and this week as he figures out a good place to display his 90th trophy.