Jeff Gordon's victory at Texas Motor Speedway marked the end of two significant obstacles in the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion's career.
Gordon ended a 47-race winless streak that stretched back to Oct. 13, 2007. His win also marked the first triumph for the Hendrick Motorsports driver at the Ft. Worth, Texas racing facility after 17 previous attempts.
With this historic 82nd career victory, I'll take you on a tour through the top 10 most memorable wins by the 37-year-old Vallejo, California native. From those late-race comebacks to total domination, whether you are a fan or detractor of the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, these 10 moments are just a glimpse into some of NASCAR modern era history.
1996 was a stellar year for Jeff Gordon, who was the reigning NASCAR Winston Cup champion and ran a strong race in this Darlington classic.
Playing cat and mouse with surprising leader Hut Stricklin, Gordon drove his No. 24 DuPont Chevy right behind the No. 8 Circuit City Ford Thunderbird around the 1.366 mile South Carolina facility, biding his time for the perfect moment to pass for the lead.
Stricklin's tire wear and overheating problems eventually got the best of the Stavola Brothers Racing driver, relinquishing command of the race lead to the 25-year-old Californian.
Gordon staved off further challenges for the remainder of the race, besting Stricklin, Mark Martin, Ken Schrader, and John Andretti to win his second Southern 500. It was the second of four-straight Southern 500 wins, a feat that still remains unprecedented to this day.
If you were to have told Jeff Gordon that he was going to win the 400 miler prior to the race, he might've given you a funny look. After all, the No. 24 DuPont Chevy was starting mid-pack in 24th position, hardly what you'd call advantageous track position.
But on a day when the cloudy conditions tightened up, several cars at the usually warm and sunny scenes of Las Vegas, Nevada, Gordon's car responded to the overcast skies as if the sun shined brightly upon it.
With great calls in chassis, tire pressure, and grille adjustments by crew chief Robbie Loomis, the No. 24 team struck a gold mine to capture its first victory at the 1.5 mile tri-oval asphalt arena.
The win would validate Gordon's comeback after a "disappointing" 2000 season which saw Gordon tally three victories and a ninth place finish in the championship standings. One of six triumphs in 2001, Gordon would go on to win his fourth (and most recent) title in a year, in the world of sports and off the field, that we will never forget.
God Bless America!
Talladega Superspeedway, one of two racing facilities on the NASCAR tour that require the use of a restrictor-plate to keep cars below 200 miles per hour, was Dale Earnhardt Incorporated's personal playground.
Having won the past five races at the 2.66-mile Alabama facility, the 2004 Aaron's 499 looked like a sure-fire victory for DEI icon Dale Earnhardt Jr., who visited Talladega's winner's circle in four of the the previous five events held at the track.
Looking to repeat his 2002 and 2003 victories, Jeff Gordon and his No. 24 Pepsi Chevy surged from mid-pack to the leader of the pack in the closing stages of the thrilling race, which had a rather anti-climatic finish under a controversial caution period.
NASCAR officials reviewed tapes of the leaders racing into turns three and four vigorously, checking on which car had the clear advantage when the caution lights came on due to the spinning car of Brian Vickers.
All evidence favored Gordon, who would be "rewarded" for his win by fans pelting his Chevy Monte Carlo with assortments of Budweiser beer cans and any beverage seemingly disposable at the conclusion of the event.
The victory was significant, as it marked Gordon's first win at a plate track since the spring Talladega race held in 2000.
Despite a solid season which saw Gordon take home four additional wins and a series-leading 25 top 10 finishes, the No. 24 would finish third in the inaugural "Chase for the Championship."
It's been quite some time since Jeff Gordon won the classic 600 miler held every Memorial Day Sunday at the famed Concord, North Carolina track.
But there was a time when the No. 24 team had the keys to dominance at the 1.5-mile race course, and this victory was memorable in every way possible for the 26-year-old driving ace.
Starting on the pole for the fifth straight time in the Coca-Cola 600, Gordon's car was not what you would deem as a bullet, usually relegating to the status of follower while Ford faces and leaders Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, and Rusty Wallace would often swap the lead position for the duration of the race.
Gordon's DuPont Chevy was the sole Bowtie Brigade representative somehow able to stick with the leaders despite a moody car that only responded vividly in a short-run racing period.
With that in mind, the usual dramatics that are important in a Gordon victory came to life in this 1998 spectacular, when Gary Bradberry's No. 78 Pilot Ford Taurus smacked the outside retaining walls between turns three and four, which prompted the leaders onto pit road for last race services.
Wallace, Martin, and Jarrett opted to take on two tires, while Gordon and crew chief Ray Evernham opted for four fresh "Feel Goods."
With just under 20 laps remaining, while Gordon and the No. 24 team did not have optimal track position, what they did have was a Chevy that was ready to pounce in its best conditions: a shootout.
Racing from sixth place on the last restart to the lead, Gordon made spectacular and daring moves, passing on the outside and inside lanes, nearly zig-zagging his DuPont car as smooth as it gets.
Coming at Rusty Wallace's expense once more, the race-winning move saw the No. 24 Chevy overtaking the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford to take home the honors after four-and-a-half hours of intense racing action. The victory, which was Gordon's third of the season, may have served as the impetus to the driver's most successful campaign thus far in his career.
With 10 additional victories and 28 top-10 finishes, Gordon would ultimately take home his third Winston Cup title with just a race remaining in the 33-event tour in 1998.
Perhaps one of Jeff Gordon's most important victories, the April 21, 2007 Avondale, Arizona night race was an event to remember for No. 24 fans and those who have allegiance to the Earnhardt Empire.
It was the Car of Tomorrow's first race at a track over a mile in length, which produced some uncertainties prior to the start of the 500-kilometer race. With 12 lead changes among seven drivers, Gordon's Chevy Impala was a consistent front runner all night long, never straying away from the top-five.
While fellow Hoosier ace Tony Stewart had command of the race, the DuPont team's consistent efforts, as well as a little luck thanks to a late-race caution, saw their driver in prime position to finally conquer the demons of the Arizona legend.
However, lap traffic, namely Martin Truex, Jr., hindered Gordon's handling, causing Stewart to catch up to the No. 24 car and re-assume the lead with just 13 laps remaining.
Not to be denied history, Gordon dropped the hammer and made his way around the No. 20 Home Depot Chevy with authority, pulling away from the once-dominant car to take home his 76th career points paying victory.
The historic feat tied the 36-year-old Golden Stater with the late Dale Earnhardt, whose accomplishments defined the sport into the national spotlight.
Gordon's win was the starting exclamation point to his terrific 2007 season, a campaign that resembled those four championships of 1995, '97, '98 and 2001.
Despite his successful season which saw Gordon make five more trips to Victory Lane, teammate Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Lowe's team just edged out the DuPont team by sheer fraction of average finish points to win his second NASCAR Cup title.
Meanwhile, Gordon was left without a fifth title, finishing the 2007 season as the series runner-up in points.
He simply cannot close a race.
He's all washed up!
You've got the Marty Schottenheimer of NASCAR as your crew chief, California boy!
Ok, so maybe those weren't the exact words from Jeff Gordon's critics and naysayers prior to this April 5, 2009 race. But those statements had some validity to them:
Jeff Gordon just simply wasn't a top winner like teammate Jimmie Johnson, Joe Gibbs Racing phenom Kyle Busch, or Roush-Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards.
Well, no matter, because the No. 24 team was on all cylinders, performing flawlessly on pit road, adjusting Gordon's Impala with tweaks to keep up with the ever-changing track conditions, to the driver doing his part to earn an amazing 82nd career victory at a track that was once the house of horrors for the Hendrick ace.
With a consistent 2009 season that has seen five top-five finishes and six-top ten efforts through seven events, Gordon's first victory of the year resembled all of his classic wins.
And what are those ingredients for that sweet Gordon victory? Well, you'll need a dominant car, some handling struggles that set back the National Guard GED Plus/DuPont Chevy in some portions of the event, and the vintage lightning fast pit stop in the last caution period that launched the No. 24 team from third to Victory Lane.
Conquering a 47-race winless drought, Gordon's season may have hit its first gold record, stamping his case for that elusive fifth championship.
Quietly emerging as a road course contender, Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 DuPont Chevy team headed to Watkins Glen International with a healthy points lead over Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett.
Coming off a solid fourth place finish in the Brickyard 400, the 26-year-old driver looked to make some gains at the 2.45 mile, 11-turn New York race track.
Starting just outside the top 10 in 11th position, Gordon made consistent strides, racing his way into contention in the first half of the event. With solid pit stops and superior fuel mileage, the points leader made the race-winning move on lap 53, passing Empire State hero Geoff Bodine to take home his first road course victory.
Sure, Gordon has eight additional times total (three triumphs at the Finger Lakes region facility and five victories at Infineon Raceway in wine valley California).
But this win marked the dynastic approach to Gordon's dominance at these sweeping facilities, which test a driver's footwork and coordination. For that, this particular race takes the honors for most memorable road course win for Four-Time's storied career.
For a while, it looked like Jeff Gordon's shot at a third straight Food City 500 victory was in jeopardy at the 0.533 mile Bristol Motor Speedway.
Gordon's car just simply could not overtake the dominant No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Thunderbird of Rusty Wallace, looking poised to capture his second victory in the 1997 racing season.
But all that changed in just a matter of less than 16 seconds, when Wallace went from a trip to Victory Lane to the garage area with disappointment.
With lap traffic hindering the progress of race leaders Wallace, Gordon, and Terry Labonte, the trio headed into turn three within car-lengths of each other when the second place driver decided to use a bit of chrome horn action to shoot past the Penske Ford pilot in the final corner for an improbable victory.
Equally as memorable as the bump-and-run pass for the lead was the reaction of Gordon's crew chief Ray Evernham, who threw his arms in the air in total disbelief, albeit in the good way. When pressed for reaction by ESPN pit reporter Ray Dunlap, Evernham stated it best by saying, "I don't know what to say!"
Say no more, Ray Evernham. Winning 10 times in a remarkable 1997 season, Gordon & Co. edged out Dale Jarrett by just 14 points to win a second Winston Cup title.
Still reeling from his emotional debut victory in the NASCAR Winston Cup racing ranks, Jeff Gordon was back home in Indiana, this time in the hallowed grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The storyline victory just seemed too perfect to the casual and avid racing fan, acknowledging the feelgood headlines of a quasi-Hoosier State boy winning in front of his hometown fans.
Gordon's story into the move to Pittsboro, Indiana is well-chronicled, as his family migrated east to allow their racing prodigy to compete in high-speed, open-wheel competitions in the form of sprint cars.
His success in those vehicles made a lot of his competitors and critics feel old, besting his peers who were in their late 20s to 40s. Was it too good to be true?
Gordon's success on the open wheel cars did not exactly translate to instant victories in the stock car scene, as the 22-year-old sophomore driver still was transitioning from high-powered but light weighing cars to the grittier, heavier sheet metal chariots that forced the driver to urge these machines with might.
With one of the dominant cars on that August afternoon, Gordon's greatest challenger in the closing laps of the inaugural Brickyard 400 was the pride of Salinas, California aka Ernie Irvan.
Swapping the lead and some paint, Gordon and Irvan duked it out with just under 10 laps remaining, entertaining the race fans who had gathered all around the Speedway, Indiana race course to witness a historic show.
Pressuring Irvan in the final laps of the race, Gordon passed the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Ford with relative ease in the first turn. That's when Irvan's shot at a prestigious victory slipped away, as not only he relinquished the lead, but also cut down a tire that dropped him from the lead lap pack.
A historic day indeed, Gordon's win in the first edition of this traditional August event at IMS is still a memorable chapter that truly defined his career during the growing pain year of 1994.
While Gordon went winless for the rest of the '94 season, the victory had to be a confidence booster for the young driver. After all, the following season would see the Vallejo, California born driver/Pittsboro, Indiana native go on to bigger things in 1995.
Where were you on Valentine's Day of 1999?
I was 13 years old and a seventh grade student who felt that the concept of the commercialized holiday for romantics was overly hyped (ask me what I think 10 years later).
All I knew was Feb. 14, 1999 when the 41st Daytona 500 was held, and this rendition of the Great American Race had the suspense and drama that reminded me why I became a NASCAR fan in 1991.
Occasional race viewers who watch the events merely for the spectacular wrecks would witness a grinding, multi-car pile up in the the third corner of the Daytona International Speedway when Robert Yates Racing teammates Kenny Irwin, Jr. and Dale Jarrett misjudged the margin of error, with Irwin's No. 28 Texaco Ford making slight contact with the No. 88 Quality Care Ford amongst the lead pack of cars.
Jarrett's spinning car soon became a pinball, flipping over a few times and getting bashed into by the incoming cars of Terry Labonte, Geoffrey Bodine, Steve Park, Mark Martin, and Sterling Marlin. In all, more than 10 cars were damaged or eliminated from contention.
For Gordon's case, however, it was not simply a matter of winning the race. It was more of a case of the three-time Cup champion trying to find "friends."
Depending on the driver you may cheer for, it was safe to say that Gordon's success in the recent seasons prompted the 27-year-old from a "must-drafter" to a "clothes-hanger."
Just when it looked like a fellow competitor would draft to the front with the DuPont Chevy, the No. 24 car would be left in the dust and to the back of the lead pack.
With teammate Labonte out of the race and fellow wing-man Wally Dallenbach, Jr. nowhere near in sight, Gordon had to rely on sheer instincts to merely contend in the race.
Aided by a late race caution caused by Bobby Hamilton's crash in the backstretch, Gordon's pit crew elected to change four tires, along with Dale Earnhardt and his No. 3 Goodwrench Chevy team.
Electing to make an unlikely partnership with "The Intimidator," the man who Earnhardt dubbed as "The Wonderboy" during the 1995 season found himself suddenly from 11th spot to second place with just 11 laps to go.
Rusty Wallace looked like he was in prime position to finally win his first Daytona 500 in his 17th try at the Great American race, leading more than 100 laps in the season opener. However, Gordon had other ideas for the Fenton, Missouri driver which was either one of brilliance or one of sheer stupidity.
Either way, Gordon made a daring late-race pass for the lead, going below the apron of the front stretch near the first corner of the track. Urging his No. 24 car to get a quick draft off the wounded No. 10 car of Ricky Rudd, Gordon found himself running along side Wallace for nearly a full circuit.
With Gordon on the inside lane and Mike Skinner taking the high line, Wallace found himself in the non-negotiable middle lane, with all the turbulence and aerodynamic instability hindering his helpless Ford.
Choosing wisely, Wallace kept steady in the middle, falling back from the lead to the bottom half of the top 10, while Gordon took the point for the remainder of the 500-miler.
Capturing his second Daytona 500 win, Gordon's win may have served as a microcosm to the illustrious career of the Rainbow Warrior. He has since gone on to win a third Daytona 500 and established himself as a venerable restrictor plate racer, friends or no friends on the track.
From his youthful exuberance that had raw talent to his cagey, veteran years with almost android-like driving abilities, to choose just 10 of Gordon's 82 victories is like asking a New York Yankee fan which World Series title (of 26 championships) bears greater significance over the other.
But one thing is certain: these 10 victories defined the career of Gordon in his title years to years of obscurity.
From a breakthrough victory to a win at a track that once served as a living nightmare, it seems like that California kid has a trick up his sleeve to make his triumphs memorable to fans of any allegiance in the NASCAR circuit.