Is Jeff Gordon The GOAT? A Minority Report

Gordon in 1994

NASCAR on FOX has sure opened a can of worms. Have you seen the brackets trying to determine the greatest of all time, tournament style? Frankly, the results indicate to this observer that too many race fans don’t know their history.

I dared to say that any competition that rates Jeff Gordon higher than David Pearson is worthless. Yes, I said it.

Please understand that when yours truly was a fan and not writing about NASCAR, he was a die hard Gordon fan. Gordon is one of the all-time greats. Is he the GOAT (Greatest of All Time?) In this humble opinion……

Admittedly, we’re trying to know the unknowable. Richard Petty was running his last Cup race as Gordon was running his first. Darrell Waltrip was in decline, and the likes of Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough were long gone. Dale Earnhardt and the one he dubbed the “Wonder Boy” had some classic duels but even their careers overlapped by less than eight years.

So what can we go on? Observation and statistics. Statistically, Gordon runs third with 93 victories, compared to 200 for The King and 105 for the Silver Fox. In terms of championships, Petty had seven, Earnhardt earned seven and heck, Jimmie Johnson has seven. Gordon had four, Yarborough, Pearson and Waltrip three, and Allison one.

Some will argue that when it comes to Petty, he had equipment superior to his competitors. You mean Jeff Gordon didn’t? Yeah, I didn’t think so. The argument is made RP got away with a lot in terms of what he ran. That’s funny- people say the same thing about Jimmie Johnson. The truth is, all these drivers bent more rules than they would ever admit to. That’s a fact, Jack. He also may have had some horses his competition didn’t have, but Petty sure didn’t go out and win championships every season. You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t regard Yarborough, Pearson, Bobby Isaacs, and Freddy Lorenzen as “inferior competition.”

Now Petty had support the others didn’t have. You can’t get around that. Then there were seasons where the old NASCAR Grand National Series was running 48 races a year, compared to the 36 we have now. If you want to know the truth, I actually rank Petty third on my all-time list.

Dale Earnhardt- with 76 victories- didn’t post quite the same numbers as the others drivers mentioned. You might be able to make an argument that The Intimidator was slowing some as his life was cut short at the end of the 2001 Daytona 500. Some fans will make the simplistic case that Earnhardt made his bones by knocking everybody out of the way. You may be especially inclined that way if you’re a Terry Labonte fan. The seven-time champion didn’t mess around. You could be sure if you stood in the way of a win, you MIGHT become victim to the chrome horn. Truthfully, I think he got a lot of mileage out of having you believe he MIGHT dump you. The frequency of that occurring has been often overstated.

Frankly, Earnhardt was more of an “eye test” driver. His performances on superspeedways spoke of his mastery of the draft. He was fearless, taking chances other drivers wouldn’t. He could and would do things nobody else had ever seen. I mean, who does that? Dale Sr. was the Pistol Pete Maravich of racing.

As for Pearson, the Silver Fox may be the most underrated champion of all time. His battles with Petty were epic, and statistically, Pearson holds up pretty well against Petty. In a post from last year, Mile 501 presents a dizzying array of statistics at The Checkered Flag. He makes a good case for Pearson, and that’s where I line up. Did you know that Pearson won 11 of the 18 races he entered in 1973? Think about that, and ponder what that says about him. Not many will agree, but Pearson is the greatest in my book, winning 105 of the 574 races he entered. Petty won his 200 in 1,184 races. Gordon- 93 in 805. You may still disagree; many will, but it’s not as far-fetched as some may think.

Statistically, you may even argue that Jimmie Johnson is better than Jeff Gordon. Oooh! Now that one’s going to get some folks fired up. Never mind the championships, Johnson has 83 wins in 579 races. Dare I say that if Johnson gets to 805 races, he’ll pass Jeff Gordon? Maybe. Frankly, this fan isn’t quite ready to rank Johnson ahead of Gordon……yet.

Now before y’all start beating on me like a rented mule, this is not saying that Jeff Gordon isn’t a legitimate candidate to be the “GOAT.” In the modern era, his 1998 campaign with 13 victories is as dominating a season as anyone has ever had in the last 20 years. Four championships? Nothing to sneeze at, for sure. Even more than that, Jeff Gordon changed the face of NASCAR, altering its image as a “regional” sport.

Everybody has their opinion, and I have mine. Like I say, I have a feeling there will be MANY who will not agree, and that’s ok. The only pure way to settle it is impossible, as there’s only active driver in my top five, and one of the others died 16 years ago. So, we debate it, and it’s interesting to hear and see the arguments people use to make their case.