Jeff Gordon Set To Compete At Darlington Raceway One Last Time On Sunday Nightby Hunter Thomas September 6, 2015 0 comments
Photo Credit: Wayne Thomas
DARLINGTON, SC – The first time Jeff Gordon hit the high banks of Darlington Raceway was back in 1991 while competing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, and on Sunday night during the Bojangles’ Southern 500, he’ll compete for one final time at the Lady in Black.
Jeff Gordon is a seven-time winner at Darlington Raceway, and the only drivers who have more wins than him at the track are NASCAR Hall of Famers, David Pearson and Dale Earnhardt Sr. Gordon’s first win at Darlington Raceway came during the 1995 season, and since then, the California native has really taken a liking to the tack located in the small town of Darlington, South Carolina.
“This is one of those tracks, sort of like Bristol, where when you hear about the track there is more of people trying to scare you and put this fear in you of ‘oh man Darlington, boy that is a tough track,” Gordon said. “You run right up next to the wall, man that place is going to get your attention, the Darlington Stripe.’ So, you come into it going ‘oh man I’ve got to watch myself here.’ Then you go out there and you either like it or you don’t.
Making his way through the rankings of the sport, Jeff Gordon competed at Salem Speedway and Winchester Speedway, tracks that were very similar to Darlington Raceway. Even his dirt track racing background has assisted Gordon in getting accustomed to sliding through the corners in Darlington.
“I loved it right away,” Gordon said. “I loved running up near the fence. I think had I not raced at places like Salem and Winchester in the midgets and the sprint cars this track would have probably been a little bit more intimidating. It fit my style, our cars were good. I really enjoyed, right from the beginning, racing at this track. I think it was really more of what people were saying about it that stuck out in my mind prior to me coming here than when I actually got a chance to race here.”
During a press conference on Friday, Jeff Gordon recalled two memories throughout his years racing at Darlington raceway that really stood out to him. The first was when he held off Jeff Burton to win the Winston Million in 1997. That particular race has been such a staple in his legacy.
“Of course the Winston Million really stands out,” Gordon said. “There was a lot of hype around that. I can remember coming down. We did a TV show that promoted that and talked about it. I’ve always been hesitant to get behind ‘hype’ because it’s hard to live up to it (laughs). And, being a part of that, you also want to take advantage of an opportunity. And we did. And then we won it. And it was very, very cool to be a part of all that, and that whole experience, and then to go win it. And it was an exciting finish, as well.
The second race at Darlington Jeff Gordon mentioned to be a great memory was when he won in 2007 with an overheating engine. Gordon’s sister had never seen him win a race, and when Gordon’s family heard that the engine was going to blow up; they left the track to get ahead of the traffic. Unfortunately for them, the engine held on and Gordon went to Victory Lane.
“Steve Letarte (Crew Chief) made a great gutsy move and we stayed out and had clean air.” Gordon said. “We had overheating issues and we won the race and pulled into Victory Lane and the radiator exploded. That’ll definitely standout for you. And my family, my mom and my stepdad and my sister were here. I don’t think my sister has ever been at a race that I’ve won. In all these years, she’s never been there. And she was here and they thought the engine was going to blow up. They heard it was overheating, and they left to beat the traffic. You can imagine. My stepdad got in a lot of trouble that day as they were listening to it on the (car) radio driving out of here.”
Heading into Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500, Jeff Gordon is sitting 13th in the championship point standings, just 17 points ahead of Clint Bowyer who currently holds the final transfer spot for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. With only Sunday’s race and next Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway to go, the pressure to make this year’s Chase in his final full-time season is very real.
“It would be unfortunate for sure,” Gordon said if he didn’t make the Chase. “All I’ve wanted this year is to end my career by being competitive. As competitive as we were last year it would be pretty disappointing if we didn’t make it. I feel like we have been fairly competitive this year. I can’t say that the reason we are in the position we are in right now is just because we haven’t run well enough. We have just had some things that haven’t gone our way. But we also haven’t performed up to par with what we expected to do this year. I want to be in the Chase. We are going to fight hard to be in the Chase and I think it would be a great way to end my career.”
The Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway will broadcast live on NBC and the Motor Racing Network (MRN) at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday night.