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Career milestones pile up for NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Wednesday, May. 22, 2013

Jeff Gordon has been racking up career milestones of late.

Here’s one more: This weekend is the 20th anniversary of his first career start in NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600.

Two weeks ago, Gordon made his 700th consecutive start in the Sprint Cup Series and finished the Southern 500 with his 300th career top-five finish.

Gordon’s runner-up finish to the late Dale Earnhardt in the 1993 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was the first of 65 career second-place finishes.

Qualifying for Sunday’s 600 will begin at 7:10 p.m. Thursday (SPEED).

“I forgot I ran well in that race,” said Gordon. “And I’m actually surprised I made it to the end. We must have hit on something that night.

“Actually, I probably just stopped hitting things!”

Gordon wasn’t kidding.

In his first full Cup season in 1993, he failed to finish four of the first seven races and ended the year with 11 DNFs (did not finish).

Gordon is still looking for his first win of the 2013 season and Charlotte is as good a place as any for him and his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team to start.

A four-time Cup champion, he has five wins, eight poles, 16 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes at the 1.5-mile track.

He is 13th in the series standings, four points behind 10th-place Kevin Harvick.

Charlotte has been the site of several firsts for Gordon, including his first pole (October 1993) and first victory (May 1994).

In fact, his first three wins at Charlotte came in the 600, but his most recent victory in the event came in 1998.

“The race starts during the day and the track changes a lot when the sun goes down,” Gordon said. “You have to be ready to stay on top of the adjustments – almost get ahead of them instead of getting behind on them.

“It’s a very long race, and I like long races because it suits my style. But the car has to be right.”

A 20-year career has altered Gordon’s mindset for the 600-mile race.

“You can’t go into this race thinking ‘Oh, we’re just going to cruise at the beginning and wait for the track to come to us,’ ” he said.

“That used to exist, but it doesn’t anymore. You start charging from the drop of the green flag.”

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