The Frontstretch: Jeff Gordon: A Legend Amongst Us by Tommy Thompson -- Thursday April 16, 2009

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Jeff Gordon: A Legend Amongst Us

Tommy Thompson · Thursday April 16, 2009


Jeff Gordon’s win at Texas Motor Speedway was, without question, a long anticipated victory for the four-time NASCAR Champion. The career win leader amongst active drivers had not visited victory lane in the prior 47 non-exhibition races dating back to October of 2007. The winless streak was not in keeping with Gordon’s prolific career statistics that have had him on pace in several years to eclipse the win totals of NASCAR greats Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip.

With the Samsung 500 victory at Texas, Gordon has now posted 82 career Cup Series wins. By comparison Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, his closest rival in the career win category of drivers competing fulltime in NASCAR’s top series, has exactly half or 41 victories to his credit. Even though Johnson has performed at a prolific pace during his relatively short 262 starts at the Cup level— having yet to experience a significant and seemingly unavoidable win-drought in his career—he does not enjoy any significant win percentage advantage over Jeff Gordon. With 16-years and 554 starts in NASCAR Cup competition under his belt, Gordon has a winning percentage of 14.86%, a sum just under Johnson’s winning rate of 15.65% amassed since he began campaigning in the Cup circuit fulltime in 2002.

Simply put, and Gordon’s recently ended wins slump aside; Jeff Gordon has been a big winner for a lot of years. With the exception of 2005 (11th) Gordon has never been out of the top 10 in driver’s points at year’s end since 1993, his freshman year, with a finish of 14th – and then a performance good enough to win Rookie of the Year honors.

Of course, all this is history and not too ancient history at that. Jeff Gordon has won a lot of races and championships. Longtime and not so longtime fans of the sport are well aware that the California native has had a tremendous amount of success behind the wheel of his Hendrick Motorsports Dupont Chevrolet. However, how many truly comprehended and appreciated the historical significance of that success is difficult to estimate.

Jeff Gordon is on pace to surpass Yarborough, Allison and Waltrip on the all-time Cup career win list.

Jeff Gordon’s winning ways is the kind of stuff that legends are made of. Legends such as Cale Yarborough, a three-time Cup Champion with 83 career wins, a win total that Gordon will equal with his next victory. Next on the list will be Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip, two giants of the sport from yesteryear who are tied for third on the all time career wins list with 84 wins apiece. Just three more victories for Gordon, the current Sprint Cup Series point’s leader and he will take sole position of third place on the prestigious list behind Richard “The King” Petty (200 wins) and David Pearson (105 wins).

Five easy to identify legends of stock car racing: Yarborough, Allison, Waltrip, Pearson and Petty. Oh yeah, and Gordon. Perhaps there are others amongst the crop of current day racers that may one day crack the top 5 on the NASCAR Cup all time wins list. If there is such a driver, he has far too many victories still to record even deserve serious consideration today.

Perhaps though NASCAR loyalists are starting to get it. The “it” being that Jeff Gordon is special. There seemed to be a genuine and widespread happiness as he celebrated his victory in an uncanny fashion for the normally more subdued Gordon by performing burnouts for the generally appreciative fans. In many cases, the same fans that in the not-so-distant past would have been jeering Gordon for yet another trip to victory lane.

Hopefully, Jeff Gordon is beginning to be recognized for what he is and has been to the sport. It seems that time may have softened some of the unfounded disapproval of him by fans that has haunted him through most of his career. Whatever the reason, the undeserved chorus of boos seems to have subsided significantly or so it would seem if his reception at Texas Motor Speedway following his triumph was any indication.

It certainly is not mandatory that fans of any sport root for the best a sport has to offer. In fact, it would be very boring were everyone to cheer for the same team or athlete. The Yankees have built dynastys, but certainly a Red Sox fan has every right to exist and for that matter hope that “his or her” team would be victorious over a legendary Yankee team. It is not necessary to be a fan of Tiger Woods to recognize and respect his accomplishments.

In the case of Jeff Gordon, just like any sports figure or entity it is perfectly understandable that individual race fans have their own reasons for rooting for one driver over another. However, as in the case of the Yankees or Tiger Woods, the fan that fails to recognize that that Jeff Gordon is the modern era standard-bearer of what a legendary NASCAR driver is.

When Jeff Gordon ties and then surpasses Yarborough, Allison and Waltrip the events should be looked on with an appreciation of his great milestones and gratitude that we were able to witness such an outstanding athlete and his historic accomplishments. His record will be part of racing lure for decades to come. And for that he’ll deserve respect from the racing community.

Who knows, this coming Saturday night race under the lights at Phoenix International Raceway may provide Gordon with his 83rd victory— a win that would tie him for fourth on the career wins list. Phoenix, coincidently, is where Gordon scored win No. 76, a win that equaled the late Dale Earnhardt’s career total. Following the win Gordon flew a No. 3 flag in what Dale Earnhardt, Jr. called a classy tribute, only to be pelted with beer cans and other such debris by irate fans apparently unappreciative of what Gordon had just achieved.

It certainly would not be a shock for Gordon, who besides the aforementioned win two years ago at Phoenix also has 8-top 5s and 15 top 10s, to win and tie Yarborough. Next up would be Talladega, where in 2007 Gordon backed-up his Phoenix win by winning at the superspeedway on consecutive weekends surpassing Earnhardt’s total.—a win that was met by an even more tasteless and demonstrative protest of Gordon’s success.

The Earnhardt-Gordon rivalry ran deep and was emotional. Fans of the Earnhardt Nation failed to enjoy and appreciate what was a historic moment. Unfortunately and unfairly, Gordon probably was never properly recognized for his historic accomplishment either. Surpassing Dale Earnhardt was a lifetime achievement that should have been more widely appreciated.

That Jeff Gordon is going to surpass the win totals of Yarborough, Allison and Waltrip is almost a certainty. The all-time win list will then read Petty, Pearson and Gordon.

Now, that is something. And we have the privilege of watching this history unfold in our time in history.

Enjoy it!

And…that’s my view from Turn 5

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04/16/2009 08:11 AM

Gordon was hated for one reason: for a stretch of seasons, he won all the time. Nobody hates a guy who runs 25th every week.

04/16/2009 01:06 PM

Hating because of success is one of Americans’ worst attributes. I’ll never understand it. Woods, Gretzky, Jordan, Ripken, Garlits, Ali and Armstrong (just to name a few) combine for an awesome list of talent and success but none of them were/are subjected to the abuse and ridicule of fans as much as Gordon. He took it in stride, and we are watching a legend in the making.

04/16/2009 01:57 PM

Geez Tommy , take a cold shower . All that excitement over someone who might finish third on the all time win list . Wow . Imagine your breathless fervor if he was going for number 1 on the list . We’d all have a wedding ceremony to attend .
Gordon has been disliked over the years for reasons just as important , just as heartfelt as your reasons that he shouldn’t have been . And believe me , your reasons are no more legitimate than the people who hate him .
Thank you for pointing out that Johnson has a better win rate than Gordon . So Jeff is only number 2 on that list .
But if you really want to write a meaningfull column on the subject of the all time winningest drivers , why confine it to NASCAR . Johnson has had a stellar career outside of NASCAR in many different series . Bobby Allison was a legend in stock cars , modifieds , and raced sports cars and Indy cars. So far Gordon has his NASCAR career , maybe ending up third all time , and a USAC title . Oh , and crashed out of many of his races in his first year . And who did he beat for rookie of the year and how well financed were their teams ?

Bill B
04/16/2009 02:43 PM

So, if 3rd on the all time win list doesn’t excite you what does?

Maybe you should compare Johnson’s win rate to Gordon’s after 262 races (that’s how many Johnson has run).

Are you insinuating that winning in other series matters more than winning in NASCAR’s highest series? You must really be impressed with Kyle Busch’s ability to win in the Nationwide and Truck series. To me winning in a less competitive series doesn’t really impress… but that’s just me.

04/16/2009 03:18 PM

Yes Bill , thats exactly what i mean . NASCAR is not, nor has it ever been , the end all and be all of auto racing . Its just one form of auto racing , outdrawn every year by the Indy 500 , not even remotely as popular world wide as F1 , just another form of racing .
And yes , i’d say its pretty unusual when a driver wants to try many types of racing , and race cars , and types of race tracks . And even more unusual when a driver can master the other types of racing . AJ Foyt for example .Mario Andretti , the aforementioned Tony Stewart , Jimmy Johnson , Dan Gurney , and Kyle Busch . Now Kyle has yet to be in the same class as the above , but given time and oportunity i wouldn’t bet against him .
And by the way , heres a little bit of information that Tommy chose to gloss over . David Pearson , for all of the many years he drove for the Wood Brothers , only ran a handfull of the races every year . How many could Pearson have won if they had run every race ? Now if Gordon had only run a portion of the races each year for a large chunk of his career , would he be anywhere near Pearson in wins ? And that also goes for Allison who was between rides several times , and even spent years running his own cars that he helped build and tune . How much of the success is Gordon , and how much the car ?
Bottom line , it takes a lot more than some simple statistics to decide who the greats of the sport are , and have been .Theres a lot more to the history of NASCAR than gets written about these days .

Casey B
04/16/2009 03:23 PM

Great article as always Tommy, I always look forward to reading your stuff each week. And unfortunately there is always Michael who tries to tear down each one of your articles. Seems to be just another Earnhardt diehard who is taking his frustrations out on the driver whom Earnhardt passed the torch to as the flag bearer for NASCAR. Which itself is unfortunate, because while I am a diehard Gordon fan, I recognize and respect what Earnhardt did for the sport and recognize the type of legend the guy is, which is exactly what this article was about, and for some reason, just like Tommy said, there are still people that don’t really appreciate what Gordon has done like people would for Tiger or Gretzky. So in a way you kind of proved Tommy’s point, well done dude.

Casey B
04/16/2009 03:39 PM

and although Pearson didnt run all the races in a season he currently has ran more races than gordon has, so i dont really get your arguement about him having more wins than he has, not to mention those wins were amassed during a time in racing where there were only a handful of competitive cars you had to beat, which i know you already know this so i’m not quite what your arguement is. Can we say the same thing for gordon then? what if he raced back then when the comepetition and parity wasnt half of what it is today? how many wins would he have? you can’t compare old nascar to new, it just doesnt work. And yes NASCAR is the end all, its where the best drivers in the world come to compete, so I think it is fair to judge a mans career but what he does in the top division of racing in the world.

Casey B
04/16/2009 03:49 PM

and i went ahead and did that math for Gordon’s first 262 races which he had 53 wins which would be a 20% winning percentage, so we can go ahead and put that arguement to rest as well.

Tom Massey
04/16/2009 03:50 PM

1995, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007, & ? 2009 ?

If he gets it this year, that will be 7 times having the most EARNED points.

Who needs “The Gimmick”.

Joe W.
04/16/2009 03:55 PM

Michael you are wrong as usual. Being 3rd all time is a BIG DEAL. Jeff Gordon will never run in as many races as Richard Petty so his record is safe, but what Gordon has done is very inpressive. I did not start out as a fan. I was dissapointed he went to drive for Hendrick. But that turned out to be a very good decision. I respect Petty, Pearson and Dale Sr. very much, but Jeff is in that group too. Will Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart join the group someday? They very well could as they are great talents too, but for now Jeff is earning the praise he receives and many of us have come over to his side because we respect what he has done and the way he has done it. As for the Nascar and F1 comparison, I have really tired of this one. It is the same as comparing Soccer and the NFL. Many of us in the U.S. find F1 and Soccer to be boring. It is just an opinion and everyone has one.

04/16/2009 06:34 PM

Well Casey , you should take over writing these columns for Tommy . Your love for Jeff also knows no bounds apparently . I think a cold shower might be in order for you as well . Remember , he’s already married .

Joe , you do remember the circumstances of Gordon screwing his team owner ( not to mention Ford ) to move to Hendrick don’t you . Good move on Gordons’ part , but sure left some good people holding the bag .

Earnhardt ? I tried to find where i mentioned Earnhardt , darned if i could find it . Help us out Casey , where did i mention it ? Yes i know , don’t sweat the facts when a guy is trying to make a point .

Now the part about the number of races Pearson ran vs Gordon puzzles me . You say Pearson ran more races than Gordon has , and even if Pearson ran many more races you say he wouldn’t have more wins than he does ? Interesting logic .

I’ll make it easy for you guys . We’ll all ignore the facts , we’ll all pretend that anything Gordon hasn’t done isn’t worth doing , that there were only a handfull of good drivers in NASCAR until Gordon came along at which time the intense competition sprouted up at the exact same time , and maybe there were 2 or 3 teams who ever had a chance to win before Gordon came along and then they were everywhere ( at least in your fantasy ) , and there has never been any driver anywhere that can match Gordon though apparently we can only compare Gordon to drivers in NASCAR .

Mind you , none of that is true , and its a slap in the face of a lot of great drivers and teams of the past to say anything so stupid . But not knowing that NASCAR has a great past , and not understanding what winning means in any era , gives you cause to think Gordon is the greatest . But thinking just don’t make it so .

So on second thought Casey , don’t take over writing this column . You’ll just turn it into a print version of TMZ .

Bill B
04/16/2009 07:19 PM

While I don’t agree with your opinion I have to admit it is well thought out and you are entitled to it. I will point out that you are penalizing Gordon, Earnhardt, Petty and Waltrip for spending their entire careers in NASCAR. I’m not sure how fair it is to hold that against them but like I said, at least your opinion is well thought out and well stated.

Casey B
04/17/2009 09:39 AM

First off Michael I’m no writer but thank you for your suggestion to take it up, really means alot. The thing I don’t get about you is that you sound like you know your stuff but how can you argue that its not a big deal that Gordon has the potential to go to 3rd all time on the win list when you know that in this day and age in NASCAR it is much harder to get a win then it was. I’m not saying that there weren’t good drivers back then because that would be ignorant to think that, there just weren’t as many that either didn’t have the equipment or the talent because the sport wasn’t as popular, thats a simple idea to get your head around. So for Gordon to achieve what he has at a time where there has been more parity than ever truely makes it an enormous accomplishment.

And no you never did mention Earnhardt, it just seems like you share the same sentiment that I have heard all to often, so I guess I wrongly put you in that category, who’s your driver anyways? I’d be curious to know.

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