Gordon, on 20th anniversary of his first Sprint Cup victory

Posted: May 09, 2014

JEFF GORDON visited the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte yesterday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his first Sprint Cup victory in the 1994 Coca-Cola 600. Hard to believe it has been 20 years since Gordon starting winning in the Cup series.

With 88 career victories (third all-time) Gordon is a sure-shot Hall of Famer. It's unlikely he'll overtake David Pearson, No. 2 all-time with 105 wins. Richard Petty's 200 never will be equaled. Jimmie Johnson is next among active drivers with 66 wins (eighth all-time).

Gordon has led the Cup points standings the past 4 weeks. He holds a slim-as-string three-point lead over Matt Kenseth entering Saturday night's race at Kansas. Neither Gordon nor Kenseth has won a race yet in a year in which the new format virtually guarantees race winners a place in the Chase.

Even though he is a youthful 42-year-old, Gordon knows he is running out of time to win his fifth championship, and first since 2001. When many drivers reach their mid-40s, they are thinking retirement.

"I know time is running short," Gordon said on a conference call yesterday. "I can't say I'm sitting here concerned about it. I've had an amazing career. I've accomplished more than I ever thought that I would. Then this year, my focus is on what a great race car and race team we have.

"I think it's just part of my personality, or maybe part of a race-car driver's personality, that I don't look too far ahead. I worry about the things that I can control. Right now the things I can control is that race car, working as hard as I can with the team to get the best results.

"We're off to a great start. Right now, I'm healthy. I'm having a lot of fun. We're very competitive. That's taking all of my attention. Besides the time I spend with my family, that's where my focus is. Not really thinking of anything else other than maybe the urgency of how important it is to win this season if you're going to win the championship."

Gordon insists 10 races into the season is too early to panic if a driver doesn't have a win. However, since he has four top-five finishes, including two runners-up, he knows it's time to record a W soon. He's a two-time winner at Kansas, but those were in the first two races at the track, in 2001 and '02.

"Those bonus points that come along with winning are very, very important," he said. "The ability to win, to show that you're a team that can win as well as win the championship, is extremely important. I feel like you need to get a win prior to the start of the Chase.

"I would say anyone outside the top eight or 10 in points now that hasn't had a win, yeah, there's definitely going to be in a little more urgency and, as you call it, panic mode."

Bowyer dream comes true

With eight career Cup wins, Clint Bowyer is a few laps behind Gordon. Bowyer will make his make his 300th career start this weekend at Kansas, his home track. The Emporia, Kan., native remembers his first Cup start in 2005 as if it were yesterday.

"I never thought that day would ever happen in a million years, never," he said "Your dream is racing dirt cars in the Midwest. [Sprint Cup racing] wasn't in your head: You couldn't possibly dream that big.

"But starting that first race [at Phoenix] and then racing against all your heroes that you grew up watching on television and hearing about, you look over and Jeff Gordon's right beside me, Dale Jarrett was on the racetrack. It's just like, 'Holy cow!' That meant everything in the whole world. It was above and beyond anything you could ever dream.

"Then fast-forward to your first win [New Hampshire, '07], the first time you rolled into victory lane. I'll never forget it. My parents were there, my brothers were there, and it was just like surreal because here all these people were to help me get to where I was at, you know, and it immediately made you think back to how it all started. You almost get giddy and start laughing like, 'How in the hell is this happening right now?' "

Life is good for Bowyer: His wife Lorra is expecting their first child in September and he just signed a 5-year contract extension with Michael Waltrip Racing. His third-place finish at Talladega Sunday was his first top-five of the year. He is 18th in points.

Kurt tunes up at Indy

Preparing for his Indianapolis 500 debut, Kurt Busch spent Monday driving an Andretti Autosport Indy car at Indianapolis. Busch plans to race May 25 in the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

On April 29, Busch completed his rookie orientation program, running 66 laps and reaching a top speed of 220.844 mph. Back at Indy on Monday, Busch completed 114 laps and reached a top speed of 222.289 mph.

Busch will not race in Saturday's inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis (3:30 p.m., 6ABC). He'll be in Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Kansas, where, in 16 career starts, he has one pole, one top-five finish and four top-10s.

The Verizon IndyCar series race will be on the 14-turn 2.349-mile road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The course was built for the Formula One racers. Will Power holds a 14-point lead over Ryan Hunter-Reay entering Saturday's race.

This week's race

5-Hour Energy 400 Benefiting Special Operations

Warrior Foundation

Kansas Speedway, Kansas City, Kan.

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

TV/radio: Fox/WNPV (1440-AM)

Race course: 1.5-mile oval

Race distance: 267 laps/400 miles

Forecast: partly cloudy, low 80s

Last year’s winner: Matt Kenseth

Last year’s pole winner: Kenseth, 191.864 mph, track qualifying record.

Track facts: Matt Kenseth led the most laps (163), including the last 52, to win last year’s race. Kasey Kahne was second; Jimmie Johnson was third. Martin Truex Jr. led the second most laps (46), finishing fourth. In Truex’s last four races at Kansas he has three top-five finishes, including two seconds ... Kenseth, Johnson, Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart are tied with Jeff Gordon for most wins at Kansas (two each). Curiously, all five drivers are still winless this season ... Missouri native Carl Edwards considers Kansas his home track, but he is 0-for-13 starts there. His best finish was second, in 2008. Camping World extended its sponsorship of the trucks series through 2022.

POINTS LEADERS

1. Joey Logano 305

2. Kevin Harvick 258

3. Kyle Busch 343

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 328

5. Carl Edwards 328

6. Brad Keselowski 294

7. Denny Hamlin 292

8. Kurt Busch 196

9. Jeff Gordon 347

10. Matt Kenseth 344

Wins: Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano, 2 each; Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, 1 each.

Up next: NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, May 17, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C., 7 p.m; TV: Fox Sports 1; last year’s winner: Jimmie Johnson.


Email: fleiscb@phillynews.com

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