Race Weekend Central

Only Yesterday: Jeff Gordon Reaches a Milestone in the Desert

In 2007, Jeff Gordon was in peak form after a few substandard years.

Well, those years were substandard for him, but that’s because he had become accustomed to contending for and winning championships. Points finishes of 11th (2005) and sixth (2006) were not what the DuPont team were used to. So the return to prominence was a welcome change for a team that had done so well for so long.

The other thing Gordon had done as he racked up wins up and down the NASCAR Cup Series schedule was win everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. The 2007 schedule featured only one track that Gordon had raced on since his rookie year but hadn’t won at: Phoenix Raceway.

Phoenix hadn’t really been a bad track for Gordon. He had worse records at other facilities certainly. Texas Motor Speedway stood out at the top of that list for the longest time. The 1.5-mile quad-oval just outside of Fort Worth demolished every car he brought there for the first four years that the racetrack existed.

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Then there was the question of can he win on a road course. In 1997, he took that theory out behind the woodshed and beat the tar out of it until the question became if he could stop winning on a road course. Four consecutive triumphs on road courses will do that.

From Michigan International Speedway to Talladega Superspeedway, Sonoma Raceway (then Sears Point Raceway) to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Gordon conquered them all during the late ’90s and early 2000s. That is, all except for Phoenix.

He had compiled a few top-five finishes and won the pole in 2005. But he seemingly never even came close to winning. He never led a lap at the desert oval during any of his four championship seasons, the only track that can make such a claim. He paced the field for 48 laps during his rookie season in 1993 but failed to finish after being involved in an accident.

On the night of April 21, 2007, Gordon started from the pole at Phoenix. He led early but soon gave way to Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart, who did most of the leading. A crash and subsequent caution brought the field together on lap 285 and to pit road two laps later.

Gordon’s team got him off pit road with the lead, followed closely by Stewart. Stewart made a bid for the lead with 14 laps to go and actually beat Gordon to the line for the lead that lap. But the No. 24 was able to fend off the challenge and held on to pick up his 76th career win.

That win number is what the race is often more remembered for, as it tied Jeff with the late Dale Earnhardt on the all-time wins list. A crew member handed Gordon an Earnhardt flag, which the driver then took around the track on his victory lap.

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While 76 wins is remarkable and worth the recognition, it is interesting that it came not at a track Gordon dominated like Darlington Raceway, Watkins Glen International or Martinsville Speedway. Rather, the milestone served to cross off the one track that had still eluded him for the duration of his Cup tenure.

2007 turned out to be the closest Gordon came to a fifth championship. He won seven times to Jimmie Johnson‘s 10, but had 21 top fives and 30 top 10s and led 1,300 laps, besting Johnson in all three categories. He only failed to finish one race. But even all of that wasn’t enough, as Gordon came up 77 points shy of the series crown.

Gordon won again at Phoenix in 2011 en route to finishing off his time in NASCAR with 93 wins, but that first one will always be one of the more memorable moments of his illustrious career.

About the author

Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.

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Bill B

There used to be a show on the Monday after every race on the Speed Channel and they’d have large posters around the set with scenes from the race. They’d give one poster away to a fan each week. If interested you’d submit an email and they’d pick one randomly.
Well, I was the lucky fan that week. It’s a picture of Jeff, Ingrid, and Steve Latarte in victory lane. Unfortunately I really don’t have a place to display it so it’s been sitting in my basement all those years.

Echo

A long time

wildcats2016

Wow Bill what a wonderful memento of that race for you.

wildcats2016

I watched that race on TV and enjoyed the win. It was great IMO of the 24 team to recognize the tie with Dale Earnhardt by displaying a 3 flag during his victory lap. Their rivalry was one that rocketed NASCAR to the top of its popularity. Losing Dale was a hard thing for all race fans I think.

Drew

I have been a Jeff Gordon fan for years and I have seen him race on tv and in person at the race track from the 2010 Gatorade duel races at Daytona to the 2013 advocare 500 Labor Day race at Atlanta Motor Speedway to the 2014 Aaron’s 499 at talladega superspeedway and the 2015 geico 500 and the 2015 bojangeles southern 500 at Darlington raceway in Darlington South Carolina and then to his NASCAR hall of fame induction ceremony in 2019.

Pool Medic

I was in attendance at his first win in the 600 and his last win in Martinsville (and many others) Bookends of his career.

Last edited 1 month ago by Pool Medic
Drew

Well the most memorable moment that I had was shaking Jeff Gordon’s hand at victory lane at the end of the 2013 Daytona 500 qualifying and that was the happiest day of my life.

Echo

Jeff came along at good time for the sport. He brought excitement to the races. He’s still a class act.

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