As Jeff Gordon’s final season in Nascar begins to wind down, it’s time to reflect on Gordon’s 25 year career. Racing since 1990, Gordon has been one of the most accomplished drivers ever. His resume includes 4 championships, 92 wins, 466 top 10’s, 6 Southern 500 victories, 5 wins at the Brickyard, and 3 Daytona 500 wins. Gordon has the most road course wins ever, has won at every single track on the circuit with the exception of Kentucky, and by the September 27th race at New Hampshire, he will take sole possession of Nascar’s Ironman streak, having completed 789 consecutive races. Jeff Gordon has come a long way since 1990–when he finally hangs up the helmet, the sport will be saying goodbye to one of the most respected drivers in Nascar history.
Gordon’s racing experience broke the mold for many Nascar drivers. Unlike Nascar stars of the past, who grew up driving stock cars around dirt tracks in the Deep South, Gordon hailed from Bakersfield, California. Gordon never raced in stock cars until his Busch Series debut–instead, he drove sprint cars and quarter midgets, small machines with no fenders. Whereas racers in these series typically moved on to race in IndyCar and Formula 1, Gordon’s success propelled him to a ride in Nascar. Jeff experienced great success driving these cars, winning 2 USAC championships. Although he initially wanted to race in IndyCars, after meeting with sponsors and future crew chief Ray Evernham, Gordon decided to move to Nascar. His first start in the Busch Series was inauspicious–although Gordon qualified 2nd, he crashed out early.
Gordon’s fortunes improved after his first Nascar race–he drove full time in the Busch Series beginning in 1991, posting 4 top fives and finishing 11th en route to the 1991 Rookie of the Year Award. It was an impressive showing for Jeff, considering he had never driven stock cars until this year. Gordon made major strides in his second year in the Busch Series, winning 3 times en route to a 4th place finish in the standings. Jeff Gordon’s Busch Series team looked very different than his Hendrick operation today. Although Gordon’s crew chief was Ray Evernham, Jeff began his Nascar career racing Fords for Bill Davis Racing, an underfunded team most remembered for Ward Burton’s improbable win in the 2002 Daytona 500. The original plan for Gordon was to move to the Cup Series with Bill Davis in 1993. So how did Jeff end up driving for Rick Hendrick? Stay tuned for more.