Photo: ISC Archives via Getty Images

Throwback Thursday Theater: Back Where It All Began for Jeff Gordon

By: David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

If there were a Mount Rushmore of NASCAR, Jeff Gordon would certainly be one of the drivers included. With 93 wins and four championships over his illustrious career, Gordon was sure to be a first ballot Hall of Famer.

On Wednesday, that came true as Gordon was among the five legends to be chosen as a part of the 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame class. So, it is only natural that we’d take a step back to where it all began for the driver of the No. 24 car and his first career Cup Series win – the 1994 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Gordon began his Cup Series career in the final race of the 1992 season at Atlanta, followed by his first full-time season in 1993, but through the first year and a half of his career, a win eluded Gordon and his team.

After many near misses, Gordon came into Charlotte in May 1994 looking for a shot in the arm, having finished 15th or worse in his six previous starts on the season, including three finishes of 30th or worse. And that is exactly what they would get.

Gordon powered his way to the pole for the Memorial Day marathon, but despite starting from the front row and leading the first lap, he would fall back in traffic for the majority of the race as daylight turned to darkness.

Rusty Wallace and Geoff Bodine looked to be the drivers to beat as the race played out, having led a combined 288 laps, but the final round of pit stops would determine who would be able to come away with the victory.

Wallace and his team elected to take four tires during their trip down pit road, while Gordon’s team, led by crew chief Ray Evernham, chose a different strategy and took only two tires, getting him back out on track ahead of Wallace after the 9.5 second stop.

Many, including Richard Petty, who was up the TV booth helping to call the race, questioned the gamble, but when Ricky Rudd had to pit from the lead with nine laps to go, the race played right into the hands of the No. 24 team as Gordon took over the lead and never looked back.

Gordon would lead those final nine laps and streaked across the finish line nearly four seconds ahead of Wallace to take the win. As they say, the rest is history.

“This is the greatest day of my life,” said Gordon. “I don’t know what to say. Just a wonderful feeling. I owe so much to this crew. I told everybody that we weren’t going to be fast in the beginning, but we’d be there when it got dark and the lights came on and that’s what this thing did.

“Unbelievable feeling. I’ve got to thank Rick Hendrick, Chevrolet, DuPont, especially, but this crew, they made that decision, I just drove the wheels off of it. I didn’t have to drive it too hard because they did such an excellent job in the pits. Man, that’s what wins races, being smart and being there all day. We’ve been so unlucky lately, this is the only way to make it all worthwhile.”

Tags : , , , , , , , ,

David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.