Throwback Thursday: When thinking of NASCAR, you usually think of 200 mile per hour super speedways and close quarter short tracks, but twice a year the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes a different turn, or multiple different turns. The two stops on the Sprint Cup schedule at Sonoma Raceway in California and Watkins Glen International Raceway in New York have become two of the most exciting races on the circuit. The normal Cup guys have to adapt to the different course while also having to battle “Road Course Ringers”, Guys like Boris Said, Ron Fellows, Max Papis and more professional road racers trying to snatch a NASCAR win away from the regulars.
NASCAR has also had some of it’s own “Road Course Ringers” in the form of three time road course winner Kyle Busch, four time winner Mark Martin and seven time winner Tony Stewart. But what NASCAR regular has beaten the Road Course Ringers more than anyone else? Nine time road course winner, Jeff Gordon.
In the early years of Jeff Gordon’s Cup racing career, he battled the best in the business for wins. The young driver won the Coca-Cola 600 and the Brickyard 400 in just his second full season, winning the championship the very next year. He had won on every type of race track NASCAR had in his first three seasons, except for a road course.
Jeff Gordon went into the 1997 The Bud At The Glen with the points lead over Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett. Gordon qualified 11th, starting next to a young driver by the name of Steve Park out of Long Island New York making his debut for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated in the #14 Chevy. Dale Jarrett led the field to green until the second caution flag, after which Bill Elliott took the top spot. Joe Nemechek, Johnny Benson and Geoffrey Bodine made up the leaders for the first 50 laps of the event. Bodine gave up the lead on lap 52 to Jeff Gordon. Gordon only led for a total of four laps before having to make his green flag stop. Gordon would regain the lead 10 laps later under caution. After the restart, Gordon showed his strength, leading the final 27 laps in the event and winning his first ever road course race.
This race at Watkins Glen extended Jeff Gordon’s points lead to 109 points over second place. Gordon would eventually win his second NASCAR Winston Cup Championship later that year. That win also started a streak for the 24 team, winning both road course races in 1998, 1999 and the race at Infineon Raceway in 2000, making it six road course wins in a row. The driver that finally ended that streak was none other than the young rookie he started next to in 1997, Steve Park.
Jeff Gordon went on to win three more road course events at Watkins Glen in 2001 and Sonoma in 2004 and 2006. Gordon currently has 92 Sprint Cup wins, more than any active driver, and four Sprint Cup Championships. Gordon’s streak on the road courses are like nothing else we have ever seen, or ever will see in our modern era if stock car racing. As Jeff Gordon gets ready to step out of the driver seat, can another driver step into the spotlight and make history repeat itself?
Photo cred: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/auto-racing/nascar/season-recaps/1990s/1998-nascar.htm