Jeff Gordon: On Track To End NASCAR Career On Top

  • by: Brian Bielanski

By Brian Bielanski

Something Crazy is going on in the Sprint Cup Series. A man who was once the target of many NASCAR fans' disdain, is cheered by nearly all in the stands at Martinsville Speedway. It's amazing what can change over 23 years.

Jeff Gordon made a splash in the then Winston Cup series when he debuted at Atlanta in 1992. A day known more for being King Richard Petty's final race, than for Gordon's 31st place finish. There was no way to know that Gordon would go on to win five championships in NASCAR's top series.

Along the way, he was vilified as the pretty boy opposite of the rough and tumble fan favorite, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. While Earnhardt was wrapping up his seven Winston Cup Championships, Gordon was beginning his run of four championships in seven years.

Gordon didn't rise the normal ladder to get to his place in NASCAR's record books. Born in California and raised on the midget and sprint cup tracks of Indiana, he won both the USAC Silver Crown and National Midget series titles before heading to tin tops.

It didn't take long after that first race at Atlanta to get his first win at the 1994 Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte.

The fans made a big deal about the rivalry between Gordon and Earnhardt, Sr. It was a rivalry that marketers dream about. Earnhardt, "The Intimidator" vs. Gordon, "The Wonder Boy." A nickname given to Gordon by the Intimidator himself.

"He's a young kid that's got a lot of talent and he can win a lot of races if he keeps his nose clean," Earnhardt told the New York Times in 1995.

Out of the rivalry grew to a quiet respect and NASCAR's most popular era. A lot of laps have been turned since those early days.

In addition to the four Cups, Gordon has 93 wins. Only Petty and David Pearson have more. He's a lock for a first ballot inductee to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

He'll go from the driver's seat to the broadcast booth in 2016, joining Fox Sports as a full time booth announcer with Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip.

Gordon has some unfinished business in the race car. The Wonder Boy is now trying to become Superman and win his fifth Sprint Cup Championship in his final season. His win at Martinsville was a huge first step. It locked him into the series' Super Bowl at Homestead. He will be one of four drivers eligible for the winner take all title race.

"This is one of the finest moments I think I've ever had in my career, I'll be honest," said Gordon. "It's just because what this year means, that this is my final year, my final race at Martinsville, punching our ticket to Homestead, having my family here, the hard work this team has put together, that reaction from the fans. This is one of my finest moments I've ever had."

It would be an ending even Hollywood couldn't script for the California boy who made a name for himself on the tracks of the deep south. Once the outsider, now the much loved elder statesman. Regardless of how the final scene plays out one thing is certain. Much of NASCAR's success over the last quarter century can be credited to a man once referred to as the "Wonder Boy."

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