TBT: Jeff Gordon's NHMS Success
This year, New Hampshire Motor Speedway celebrates its 25th Anniversary. Throughout the year as part of that celebration, the Granite Stripe will throw it back on Thursday and give a small history lesson on past events at the track.
Jeff Gordon broke the news on Thursday that NASCAR fans had begun fearing they might hear sooner than later: the upcoming season will be his final competing as a full-time driver for a Cup championship.
The news hits home at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, because our Cup races have been synonymous with Gordon's presence. He broke into the Cup Series as a rookie in 1993, the same year that NHMS hosted its first Cup race.
By the end of 2013, he was one of only four drivers to have started every Cup race at NHMS, and by last September's SYLVANIA 300, he was the only one to hold such a distinction. Bobby Labonte and Joe Nemechek fell off the pace when they missed July's Camping World RV Sales 301, and Jeff Burton ceded the accolade to Gordon when he didn't race in September.
Gordon is a four-time Cup champion, and NHMS has played a significant role in his success. All three of his wins at the Magic Mile came in championship seasons.
On July 9, 1995, he worked his way up from a 21st starting position and took the lead on Lap 38. Mark Martin took it back just four laps later, and led 108 of the first 112 laps, but Gordon became the car to beat during the second half of the Slick 50 300. He took the lead on six different occasions for a race-high 126 laps led, which included a 64-lap stretch from Lap 171-234 and the final 47 laps of the event. He left the race with a 40-point lead in the standings over Sterling Marlin.
On Sept. 14, 1997, Gordon again overcame an unfavorable starting position of 13th. He found himself up front at the midpoint of the CMT 300 when he led Lap 149. He took the lead four times on the day and led the final 73 laps for a race-high total of 137. The win gave him a 139-point lead over Mark Martin in the standings.
On Aug. 30, 1998, the only NHMS Cup race run in August, Gordon started on the pole but only led the first lap. Mark Martin proved to be the car to beat, leading 193 laps on the day, before Gordon passed him to take his second and final lead with 67 laps to go. Gordon hung on for the win to maintain his points lead over second-place finishing Martin at 67.
Gordon's fourth and final championship came in 2001, the only year in which he won the title without a visit to the NHMS victory lane.
Well, he started on the pole in both events. On July 22, 2001, he led a race-high 126 laps before finishing second to Dale Jarrett. Then, on Nov. 23, 2001, a race postponed due to the attacks of 9/11, he led 257 of 300 laps but faded to a 15th-place finish. Not that it mattered, the race was the final of the season and he edged Tony Stewart for the championship by a jaw-dropping 344 points.