When Jeff Gordon found his way into victory lane on Tuesday at Atlanta it was fitting. Gordon’s first race was at the track during the 1992 season, it was also the final time that Richard Petty was behind the wheel on a racetrack.
Gordon being at the fall race at Atlanta could be largely over looked at the time. Aside from Petty’s final race, it also marked a highly contested championship battle between three drivers. You had the veteran Bill Elliott, the owner/driver Alan Kulwicki, and the son of a legend in Davey Allison all trying to put a title on their mantle.
The day began with the children of Petty giving the command “daddy start your engine”. The #43 fired alone. Later the rest of the field fired their engines and one of NASCAR’s most thrilling races was run.
Bill Elliott would win the race and lose the title as Kulwicki earned bonus points for leading the most laps (103 to 102) which was enough for the latter to win the championship by 10 points. Allison who entered the day as the points leader saw his day ruined when Ernie Irvan lost control of his car on the front stretch midway though the event.
As for Petty he finished the day in a mangled #43 car. His career was over but another one was just beginning. That of Jeff Gordon.
Everyone knew Jeff Gordon was a talented driver. He had proven himself working up the ladder but who could have said on that day in Atlanta that Gordon would later win four NASCAR titles, and 85 races.
Gordon’s 4 titles in the modern era seemed unfathomable and unmatchable until Jimmie Johnson rolled off five in a row from 2006-2010. His 85 wins however are still that.
Only Richard Petty and David Pearson are ahead of him in total NASCAR wins and one one has more in the modern era. In fact Petty and Pearson’s career wins are bloated so much by the number of races and lack of overall competition that even Pearson concedes that his numbers don’t stack of to Gordon’s. Petty isn’t about to make that statement instead saying that they are simply from different eras.
The reason we have to compare Gordon to Petty and Pearson is because his numbers are so far and above anyone of his time, save Johnson, that there is no comparing to him. At age 40 Gordon is having a renaissance season scoring 3 wins when he had just one win over the last three seasons.