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Racing to the Point: We Should Appreciate Jeff Gordon’s 90-Win Milestone
(Credit: CIA)

Racing to the Point: We Should Appreciate Jeff Gordon’s 90-Win Milestone

Amid all the brick kissing and reveling in Jeff Gordon’s fifth Brickyard 400 victory on Sunday, a more important milestone was overlooked.

Gordon became only the third driver in NASCAR history to win 90 races. Ninety. That’s how many wins Aric Almirola has times 90.

It’s an incredible feat for a driver in the modern era. Richard Petty won 200 races and David Pearson is second on the list with 105, but those legendary drivers did it in a much different climate. The competition level wasn’t in the vicinity of where it is today and races were seemingly held about 322 times a year. Maybe not that many, but you get the point. Pearson competed in 61 races in 1964 and won 16 of 48 in 1968.

My point isn’t to disparage what Petty and Pearson accomplished, but to bring to light what Gordon has done. Probably the best way to do it is to say that Gordon will either be the last driver to ever reach 90 wins, or the second-to-last driver to do it. It took Gordon 20-plus years to get there, and today, I’m not sure it’s realistic for more than a few drivers to hang around two decades in Sprint Cup. Unless you’re Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who was given years to get his act together at Hendrick Motorsports, the top teams in NASCAR aren’t going to waste much time in making a change when the results aren’t there.

Let’s put Gordon’s career in perspective against a couple of drivers considered to be at the top of the talent pool today, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch. Each driver is racing in his 11th season — half of Gordon’s career — and Busch has 29 victories and Edwards, 23. They won’t even come close to 90. Neither will anyone else for that matter, besides Jimmie Johnson. Currently at 69 wins, Johnson is on pace to reach 90 in 2018 or 2019. That’s barring he stays healthy, doesn’t lose a step and Chad Knaus doesn’t decide to retire after 15-plus years of working 90 hours a week. If Johnson continues at his current rate, chances are he will be 43 when he reaches 90, the same age Gordon is now.

Jeff Gordon carries the checkered flag after winning the 2014 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. (Credit: CIA)

Jeff Gordon carries his 90th Sprint Cup checkered flag after winning the 2014 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. (Credit: CIA)

There’s no reason to think Johnson won’t keep that pace, but you never know. I don’t anticipate Chandra trying to run Jimmie over with a racecar after she finds out about his mistresses, like Elin attacked Tiger Woods with the golf club, but who would anticipate that? That combined with a back injury and some driving issues had Tiger Woods recently fell behind Jack Nicklaus’ major wins pace. If Tiger gets to Jack’s 18 wins, he’ll probably be the last.

If Johnson reaches 90 wins, he will be the last. And I’m not giving it to Johnson just yet. Five Brickyard 400s is a big deal, but a driver besides Johnson could definitely match that mark someday. Another driver could also win four championships and three Daytona 500s, but they won’t get 90 wins.

Unless you were a Jeff Gordon fan in 1990s, it was difficult to appreciate his dominance. Fans either loved or hated him. He angered roughly half the fan base by not only taking the top step on the NASCAR pedestal from Dale Earnhardt, but by doing it so easily.

The other reason there wasn’t much middle ground was because Gordon won so damn much. In 1998, he posted the greatest season of all-time. It’s another mark that is unlikely to be touched; he won 13 times in 33 races and had 26 top 5s. Twenty-six top 5s in 33 races? He made the Cup field look like he was racing a Joe Gibbs Racing car in the current Nationwide Series.

It took Gordon to slow down in the 2000s and Johnson’s feats for me to look back and really appreciate Gordon. I think that’s the case for many NASCAR fans. When Johnson was heralded as NASCAR’s greatest driver for all of his titles, many of us who watched in the ’90s said, “Wait a second. I’ve seen this before, and I’ve seen it done better.”

The boos that used to accompany Gordon — even louder than the boos Kyle Busch receives now — are much quieter these days. There is a respect that has been built for Gordon’s talent. Even if you aren’t a Gordon fan, as an auto racing fan it’s difficult not to marvel at what he’s done.

On Sunday, he won a race 20 years after the first time he won it. Has anyone ever done that?

Ninety wins. Sunday was either the last time or the second-to-last time you will ever see it. Appreciate it.

About Brett Poirier

Brett Poirier
Brett starts his fourth year with the Frontstretch in 2014, writing the popular Racing To The Point commentary on Tuesdays. An award-winning Connecticut Sportswriter and Editor, Brett resides in the Constitution State while working towards his dream of getting involved in racing full-time.

16 comments

  1. Regarding the ‘has anyone ever done that?’ Earnhardt won the Atlanta spring race in 1980, then again in 2000.

  2. My wife was always a big Gordon fan so any negative comments on my part were unwise unless I was willing to spend the night on the couch. I was a Ford guy but even early on there was no denying that he was (and still is) something special. I just wish every once in a while he would just say what he thinks without the sponsor roll call. I always imagined that he could be very interesting to listen to. I Chevy guess DuPont we Pepsi will Mr Hendrick never know.

  3. Brett, thanks for a mature and wise retrospective on Jeff G.

  4. Going to work on Monday mornings and seeing the black #3 tee shirts worn by some pretty obnoxious fans after an Earnhardt win on Sundays was getting pretty old back in the 80s and early 90s. I was one of those who rooted for ABE (AnyBody But Earnhardt).Then along comes this kid who starts beating the “Intimidator” and I became an instant fan. Suddenly I wasn’t seeing so many Monday morning black tee shirts. Boy was I having some fun with that! They all hated Gordon even though he drove the same brand of car. So I think Gordon haters were mainly Earnhardt fans and Ford fans. The Ford fans because he drove a Ford for Bill Davis early on and jumped to Chevrolet. Yep the “Kid” accomplished quite a bit over the past 20 years(90 wins, 4 championships). I’m rooting for him to get to 106 wins and 5 championships. But now there is a new kid on the block with the name of Johnson and now I know just how those Earnhardt fans felt. In 12 short years 69 wins and 6 championships. I’m finding a million reasons not to like him because he’s a threat to and probably will surpass my guy’s accomplishments. Some he already has. Yep, what goes around comes around.

  5. Back in the late 90′s we always had a betting pool at the Charlotte races. For $10 you could pick your favorite driver as long as nobody with more seniority in our litttle group had already picked him. We all hated Gordon (we kept a “doctored-up” cardboard cut-out of him taped to the door of our porta-john) and we didn’t allow anyone to bet on Gordon because we didn’t think it was fair. So we simultaneously hated him while respecting his talent.

    I’m pretty sure Jimmie Johnson minus Chad Knause = slightly above average.

  6. I think we all forget how dominant Gordon and 24 team with Evernham were from 1995-1999. Even when he didn’t win titles in those years he led the series in wins. Jimmie is an all time great but he’s benefited from Chad Knaus not going anywhere and the Chase system that gives a dominant team a “mulligan” during the regular season if they have a string of bad races. It was fun to be a Gordon fan in the 1990s when he was crushing everyone. I swear no one was hated in the South that much since General Sherman.

    • In 97 and 98 he won 23 out of 65 races.
      But even more interesting, if you total Gordon, Jarrett and Martin during those 2 years they combined to win 44 out of 65 races (two thirds of all the races).
      That didn’t leave a lot of room for anyone else to win. In fact I can’t imagine anything like that happening again with the current rules and kit car.

  7. I was delusional. Makes perfect sense. Pass the rainbow stew.

  8. I agree that it was ridiculous when people wished Gordon would wreck badly, or did bad things to his fans. But I see the side of those less-rabid haters. Gordon got all the breaks in the 90′s. He was NASCAR’s vehicle to which they hitched the boom years wagon. Call it sour grapes if you will, but I’ve always believed he was way overrated. There was a different set of rules for the “Rainbow Warriors” (gag). I watched him get more than a few races outright handed to him. I remember a fan in 1998 asking if Gordon could win a title in the poorly-performing Tabasco car. A fellow scribe replied that yes, he could, but it would not be easy, and it would be an ARCA or Winston West title. People love to say that the only reason Richard Petty won anything was due to having the best team. Yet everything Gordon ever did was all down to him. Odd, that.

    • Yeah but the people saying that about Petty are either people that weren’t his fans at the time or fans that weren’t there at all but can see the obvious differences between the eras with respect to how many cars were competitive capable of winning on any given week (all things being equal).

      Personally, I think you are constructing your own reality. My recollection having been a Gordon fan from the 90′s was that most of us realized that being on Hendrick and having a crew chief like Evernham was all part of the equation. Ask any Gordon fan from the 90′s how they felt when Evernham announced he was leaving. Anyone who thinks that “everything Gordon ever did was all down to him” is an idiot and has no grasp of what it really takes to be successful in NASCAR.

      FYI: I don’t think Johnson would have 6 championships either if Knaus had left after the 3rd one.

      • Mine, too, Bill, I remember feeling sick about Ray leaving because it was going to be a blow to the team which was something that was huge for HMS. Even now when Jeff speaks about his success, he always gives credit to the team.

        It takes time to rebuild the chemistry within a team and Gordon has done it with multiple crew chiefs. I think that Johnson would have had a much tougher time winning those 6 chase trophies w/o Knaus.

        • Yep Gina. We knew it was the end of the era and things would never be the same. Future success was not guaranteed.

  9. Thank you for the lovely article. I have been a Gordon fan through the 90′s and the level of hate directed at both the driver and his fans was pretty astonishing. It has been nice over the past few years to see that some of that has mellowed out. Like Bill, I’d like to see him get to the 100 win mark, too and I agree that if he had to start over with another crew chief, I don’t think it is possible. Just think – Gordon has had 4 different crew chiefs in his career and won races with all of them. Johnson has had one and IMO it makes a difference.

  10. Not to quibble, but isn’t 90 wins 45 times Almirola’s total?

    • If Almirola has 2 wins then it’s 45 times (45 x 2 = 90) but he only has one win that I know about (90 x1 =90).

  11. Sure would like to see him get to that even 100 mark. It may be possible if he can drive another 5 years and stay with Alan. If he has to start over with a new crew chief it might be impossible.
    Either way he’s made his mark on NASCAR history.