Thompson In Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Tuesday May 1, 2007
Despite the continued effort by fans at Talladega to discredit Jeff Gordon's march into the NASCAR record books as one of its all-time greats, his remarkable career accomplishments continued anyways, where he recorded his seventy-seventh win Sunday to add to what has been a long, distinguished Winston/Nextel Cup Series career. In achieving that milestone, he has relegated legendary NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt, Sr. to seventh place on the all-time wins listâ€¦ a fact that has riled many faithful fans of the legendary NASCAR star. To let their emotions get in the way of reality is a shame for those fans, as well as others that are allowing their own petty prejudices to prevent them from appreciating what is becoming an increasingly significant time in the almost sixty-year history of NASCAR.
It is inarguable that Gordon, much like the man known as “The Intimidator,” has guaranteed himself a place amongst the greats of American auto racing. At only 35 years old, it is reasonable to expect Gordon to both equal and eclipse the career win totals of several other illustrious drivers of the sport before he chooses to hang up his own helmet. Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, and "The Silver Fox" David Pearson, considered by many to be the best stock car driver ever, are all on the list of drivers ahead that Jeff Gordon can conceivably surpass in the next several years.
In fact, if the man they call the “Rainbow Warrior” maintains his current average of a little more than five wins per season throughout his career, Gordon is likely to surpass Yarborough (83 wins), as well as both Allison and Waltrip (tied with 84 wins) by the end of the 2008 Nextel Cup season. When that occurs, NASCAR's record book will list the all-time winning drivers as 1.) Richard Petty, 2.) David Pearson and 3.) Jeff Gordon! At that time , Gordon’s will become inarguably defined; he’ll be considered as the most successful driver in the modern era of stock car racing, mentioned for generations to come amongst the all-time greats in the same breath as Petty and Pearson before him. Because of the magnitude of that accomplishment, all present fans of the sport should appreciate that they are witnesses to his historic undertaking.
The next few years should prove to be highly interesting for race fans as Gordon, once moving to third on the win list, will then pursue the 105 total victories recorded by David Pearson, a milestone that just a few years ago seemed to be impossible for any driver in this highly competitive era to seriously challenge. However, if Gordon continues at his career pace, he may just become the second most victorious driver in NASCAR Cup history before reaching the age of 42. Twenty-eight additional wins is all that’s needed to place him behind the never be equaled feat of Richard “The King” Petty's 200 visits to Victory Lane.
Though Gordon has indicated in years past that he did not foresee himself racing into his forties, he appears to be reevaluating his position. In a recent statement following his noteworthy seventy-seventh win he said, “Opportunities that I have on the race track might make me want to (race) longer, might make me want to do it shorter.” Gordon further opened the door to the possibility of prolonging his career by continuing, “I’m not really sure. I’ve always said if I’m competitive and healthy and enjoying what I’m doing out there, then I want to keep doing it. I’ve never put a date on it or an age or anything like that.” Possibly Gordon is beginning to recognize the significance of his incredible success, and wants to continue to ride it out as long as he’s healthy and happy.
Certainly, any prediction of Gordon continuing to win at a record-setting clip is highly speculative and based on a past rate of winning that has decreased from his glory days with Ray Evernham as his Crew Chief. That was a partnership that saw the two Hendrick Motorsports employees winning at a understandably difficult pace to maintain of approximately seven races per year while together. However, in consideration of what Gordon has achieved in just over fourteen yearsâ€¦who would bet against his ability to win twenty-eight more times?
Now, race fans are incredibly loyal to their chosen driver or team, and it is understood that the reasons for their fervent allegiances are not always easily explained. But a fans personal likes and dislikes should not cloud their judgment to the extent that they cannot appreciate greatness when it appears in front of their noses. If they do, they only cheat themselves.
The bottom line is simple; non-Gordon fans can choose to close their eyes to the four-time champion's on-track accomplishments and dismiss it through their own cynicism, or they can embrace this historical period in time, enjoy it, and remember it. The career records of the likes of Pearson, Allison, Waltrip and Earnhardt are testaments to their greatness, and Gordon's besting of their benchmarks cannot minimize the status of these legends of the sport. It only confirms that he, too, is worthy to be considered amongst the very best the sport has had to offer.
In the end, success is incredibly hard to argue with.
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