Sunday afternoon at Pocono Raceway, Jeff Gordon joined some very elite company in the NASCAR history books. By scoring the win in the 5-Hour Energy 500, Gordon moved into a three-way tie with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip on NASCAR’s all-time win list with 84 victories.
The only two drivers with more victories than the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet are Richard Petty and David Pearson.
“I really can't even express in words what it means to tie Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison at 84 wins because I just never thought it would ever happen for me, or really when I got in this sport for anybody to win that many races is amazing,” Gordon said.
Unwilling to speculate on his status among the NASCAR greats, Gordon said he will wait until the time is right to reflect on all he has accomplished in his career.
“You know how I want to be remembered? I want to make it to that speech,” he said. “I've been to two Hall of Fame events. I want to be on that stage mixing it up with the other people when that day comes, and hopefully it does, and I want to be able to express it then because I think I'll have had the moment and the time and the appreciation to truly embrace it and understand what it means.
“I'm just not there yet. I'm just not in that frame of mind to put it in perspective. It would be way too premature to talk about it.”
Gordon was able to accomplish the win on Sunday by getting past Juan Pablo Montoya on the final restart of the day and never looking back after that.
Along with making history with his win, Sunday’s victory – his second of the year – also gives Gordon a leg up on the competition when it comes to making the 2011 Chase.
“There is too much racing left to go,” Gordon said when asked if he felt the win guaranteed him a spot in the Chase. “You have guys like (Denny) Hamlin who are really strong and a bunch of other ones that can ease up. (Greg) Biffle, there are guys that can win multiple races. I feel a lot better about it though. That is for darn sure.”
Progressing into the next phase of his illustrious career, Gordon pointed out simply making the Chase is no longer good enough for the nearly 40-year-old driver.
“I don't want to just be in the Chase,” he said. “Being in the Chase, at 40 years old, is not enough. That's cool. Our sponsors like it and all, but that's not enough. (Alan Gustafson) is too good of a crew chief with too good of a race team. I feel like I'd be letting them down if all we do is sneak our way into the Chase.”
Reiterating he wanted to be a threat for the title, Gordon said the No. 24 is not where they want to be in terms of the overall championship picture, but Sunday’s performance was a step in the right direction.
Coming into the season, Gordon and Gustafson had high hopes and met many of their goals two weeks into the season by winning at Phoenix International Raceway. Yet after that win, the team struggled to put together consistent runs week to week.
“Days like today to me give us that confidence and momentum and show the competition that, you know, they might need to start worrying about us again,” Gordon said. “But we got to do that consistently to show that. That's why people fear the 48 (Jimmie Johnson). That's why people fear Carl (Edwards) and the guys that have run up front, because they're doing it week in and week out.”
Pole sitter Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top 10.
Point leader Carl Edwards’ had a rare engine failure early in Sunday’s 500-mile race. Going behind the wall, the No. 99 crew determined a valve broke inside the engine. Knowing how important each position is in the championship hunt, the Roush Fenway Racing team worked vigorously to get the No. 99 Ford back on track before the end of the race, finishing the day 37th.
Following the race, Busch’s No. 18 Toyota failed post-race inspection when NASCAR officials found the left front of the car to be too low. NASCAR will take the car back to the Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. for further inspection. Penalties will likely be announced early this week.
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