I never saw Richard Petty put a hurtin' on the field. I never saw the sly ole Silver Fox outsmart the competition and DW busting out the "Icky Shuffle" Is just a piece of tape to me that they bust out each Daytona 500. Being a relatively new fan to the sport, I've missed a lot.
But I have been lucky enough to see stock car greatness, thanks to Jeff Gordon. With his win Tuesday at Atlanta, Gordon moved into third on the all-time win list. Let's put this into perspective, it is so hard to win these days. Gordon has done it 85 times. And he's just 40. It would take some work and Mark Martin type longevity, but Gordon could get to David Pearson's 105, which is second. A number that most thought would be unreachable in the modern era.
"I'm just thrilled to be at 85 in the company that I'm with," Gordon said after the race. "Bobby and Darryl, and you look at being behind David and Richard, it's something very significant. Something I'm very proud of."
And the wins are impressive, but what will make Jeff Gordon a legend is not just his success on the track, but the way he changed the perception of the sport off the track. He has hosted Saturday Night Live and Regis and Kelly, and appeared in the movie Herbie Fully loaded. Every time Carl Edwards appears on the Weather Channel or Brian Vickers in episode of The Glades, that is Jeff Gordon. He brought NASCAR in to the main stream.
The funny thing is he has gone through an evolution much like the legends who changed the sport before him. Petty, Earnhardt and Waltrip all wore the black hat as drivers fans loved to hate. But even over the short 10 years that I've been following the sport, Gordon's reception at the track has gone from a 50/50 split of cheers and boos, to mostly cheers. Fans now understand the sport needed him.
There is certain symmetry to it. Maybe it's the running around in circles thing. None the less, it seems perfect that Gordon got win number 85 at the first track where he made his first start (on the night the King made his final start).
"To win 85, you know, is unbelievable," said Gordon. " And to do it here at Atlanta. I'm not sure really to kind of rank everything, because the significance of this win today, the timing of it, doing it here in Atlanta on such a tough racetrack, battling with Jimmie, the bonus points, the 85th win, the momentum that this team has got right now and the race cars we're taking to the racetrack. Man, this is cool"Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times