It's difficult to imagine that the driver once dubbed "the youngster" is now 40 and a four-time champion with 85 victories. Gordon and Bobby Allison are tied for third all-time, following only Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). Gordon has the most short track victories (64), the most restrictor plate triumphs (12), and the most road course victories (9). He's also the only driver to win races in every decade of NASCAR history.
Gordon won his first championship in 2001, but he didn't become the sport's all-time leader until 2005 when he beat out Darrell Waltrip by one victory. He then went on to claim his fourth title in 2009. There's no doubt he's their favorite son among drivers from North Carolina, and it's not hard to see why. When he wins, people go wild; when he loses, they cry foul. Either way, it's clear that there's no better driver or team in the sport today.
He started racing at a young age and quickly worked his way up through the ranks. In 1992, he made his debut at Darlington Raceway in a car owned by his father-in-law who was trying to help him get noticed by NASCAR officials. Although he failed to qualify for the race, this early experience would lead to great things to come. A few months later, he got his own car ready for the first of many seasons competing in the now-defunct Winston Cup Series.
Since 1979, six Rookie of the Year drivers have won a NASCAR Cup championship: Dale Earnhardt (1979), Rusty Wallace (1984), Alan Kulwicki (1986), Jeff Gordon (1993), Tony Stewart (1999, 2005), and Matt Kenseth (2000). James Hylton finished in second place in the championship (1966). Bill Holleron was leading the championship when he died in an accident at the World 600 race in North Carolina on May 24, 1967. The season came to an end without any change in the standings because all of the points were given out for that year's season.
Some people might say that Carl Edwards is the most likely candidate to win the title this year since he has already been awarded the award by some pundits. However, there is still a lot of racing left in 2010 and anything can happen. As long as Edwards stays healthy, he should be able to take home the trophy.
Here are the other five drivers who finished behind Edwards in the point standings: Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, and Clint Bowyer. All of these drivers have a good chance of winning more races this year than Edwards and being closer to him in points. But only one will be named the winner of the 2010 championship.
There have been several drivers who have won championships while not even finishing every race. Examples include David Pearson, Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Ricky Rudd, Mark Martin, and Juan Pablo Montoya.
For Hendrick Motorsports, at least 8 different drivers have won at least one NASCAR Cup Series race.
There are four championships. Jeff Gordon concluded his NASCAR Cup Series career with four titles, behind just Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson, and Richard Petty for the most all-time. He is tied with seven other drivers.
He first won in 1998 when he was 20 years old. At the time, this made him the youngest champion in NASCAR history. Since then, he has been named the MVP of each of his seasons. Gordon has also won three times each in 2000 and 2001, and twice more in 2004 and 2005. His final championship came at the age of 30 years old in 2007. He remains today as one of only three drivers to win the championship before turning 31 years old (the others being Bill Elliott and Darrell Waltrip).
Gordon's overall record is 192-162-10 with 7 titles. He has been involved in some controversial finishes during the season finale; in 11 attempts, he has never finished last. He is also one of only six drivers to ever lead the most laps but not win the title (he led 472 of 1,074 laps, but lost due to a disqualification for speeding in 2002).
Gordon has won 14 races during his career, a record that probably will not be broken since he retired after the 2008 season. He still ranks fourth in wins among active drivers.
Jeff became the youngest driver in Winston Cup history when he won his first championship in 1995, at the age of 24. In 1998, he set a record by winning 13 races in a single season and four races in a row. He still holds both records today.
When he retired after the 2010 season, Jeff had won five championships, which is more than any other driver. His record of seven titles in eight seasons will never be broken because NASCAR has eliminated its point systems over time.
Now that he's done racing, what are Jeff's thoughts on young drivers today? "They're crazy," he said in 2011 when asked about the current state of NASCAR. "There's no way anyone could do what we did back then."
He also disagreed with some of the changes made to the sport recently. "The short tracks are going away too fast," he said. "And the long tracks are getting really long, which is bad for the cars' handling."
Finally, Jeff gave some advice to young drivers today.
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon (born August 4, 1971) is a retired American professional auto racing driver who spent 25 years in the NASCAR Cup Series. Gordon began racing karts at the age of nine, and by the age of twelve, he had won over 200 races in quarter midgets and go-karts. At sixteen years old, he moved up to the Sprint Car series, where he became one of its most successful drivers during the 1990s and early 2000s. In 2001, he made his Winston Cup debut, driving for the Hendrick Motorsports team. He has since gone on to win seven championships across all three of NASCAR's major series: the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, and the All-Star Game.
Gordon has also been involved in several incidents while racing sprint cars. In 1995, he suffered two broken legs and three broken ribs when another driver crashed into him at over 100 miles per hour. The other driver was sentenced to jail time after pleading no contest to charges of aggravated assault and battery with a motor vehicle. Two years later at the World of Outlaws sprint car race at Beech Ridge Raceway, Gordon again suffered injuries when another driver collided with him at high speed. This time he broke his back and neck. The other driver was charged with felony counts of criminal negligence resulting in death and injury by an accident involving a motor vehicle.