Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon achieved a major milestone in the rain-delayed 500-mile race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on Tuesday. Gordon scored his 85th win in NASCAR’s top league after a furious battle with Hendrick Motorsports team-mate and friend Jimmie Johnson, thus emerging from a three-way tie with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison to become NASCAR’s third most successful driver behind seven-times champion Richard Petty and triple champion David Pearson (who won 200 and 105 races respectively).
Gordon now stands not only as the most successful active NASCAR driver but also as one of stock car racing’s all-time greats. Jeff has been racing Cup cars for 19 years and celebrated his 40th birthday in August. He last won the championship in 2001 and has had his struggles in recent years, but he’s been very competitive this season and was superb at Atlanta, leading most of the way. His 85th win was his third victory this year and he earned it with great panache as he battled hard with Johnson through the closing laps, both slithering precariously close to the wall on a number of occasions.
“Our car was strong at the beginning of a run but we used it up at the end,” he said. “That was a lot of fun. I was slipping and he was slipping. The throttle control was very tough at the end. He had one or two shots at me and I really thought we were done because I got so loose.”
Gordon clung to the high groove and when Johnson fought a giant wiggle at the end of the penultimate lap Jeff knew he was home free. “When I saw him get real loose off Turn 4 as we were coming to take the white [flag] I could breathe a sigh of relief.”
Johnson took equal pleasure from the duel. “Thank God I grew up racing on dirt,” he grinned. “If I hadn’t raced on all those desert and stadium tracks I think I would’ve spun out four of five times at the end. I had a bit more speed over the long haul but I just couldn’t get by him. I hoped that Jeff would run the tyres off his car and I could catch him, and it kinda worked out, but I couldn’t get by him. But what a lot of fun. To race that hard, that sideways at 180mph for lap after lap, that’s a good time.”
Gordon was so engrossed in the battle that he didn’t think about his milestone win until he was reminded about it in victory lane. “That’s unbelievable!” he grinned. “I’m just blown away by the kind of day we had and the kind of year we’re having. Eighty-five… Wow, I love it!”
Whatever you may think about NASCAR, nobody can deny that it puts on a tremendous show and that Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are among the most accomplished racing drivers in action anywhere today.