LONG POND, Pa. – Jeff Gordon is pushing 40, far removed from the cocky kid who shot to superstardom and helped put NASCAR on the mainstream map.
At any age, Gordon still knows how to win.
Don’t put the rocking chair on the front porch quite yet. Not when Gordon still burns out near the finish line, stamps his name alongside the sport’s greats in the record book, and believes a fifth Cup championship is a realistic goal.
Gordon moved into a tie for third on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup career victories list, winning for the 84th time when he took the checkered flag Sunday at Pocono Raceway. He tied Bill Elliott with five wins on the 21/2-mile triangle track.
“There’s no doubt, I’m blown away with what I’ve accomplished,” Gordon said.
Gordon won in February at Phoenix International Raceway and has multiple victories in a season for the first time since 2007. Gordon’s victory at Phoenix ended his drought at 66 races without a win.
Gordon reached double-digit victories in three straight seasons (1996-98) and seemed a lock to hit 100 victories by 35 and put himself behind only Richard Petty on the all-time list.
Petty leads with 200 wins and David Pearson is second with 105.
Wins have been harder to get for Gordon as his career stretches into its 20th season. He posted winless seasons in 2008 and 2010.
“We were living at the peak of the mountain there for a number of years,” Gordon said. “It was awesome. When you’re there, you know you’re going to get knocked off eventually. You can’t always stay on top.”
Gordon entered the race having led a record 918 laps at Pocono Raceway. He added 39 to the total Sunday.
“When you see what he’s done in his career, not just this decade, not just in the 2000s, but all the way back to the ’90s, he’s a true legend in this sport,” Kurt Busch said.
Busch, the polesitter, was second and Kyle Busch third.
Kyle Busch’s fun was short-lived. NASCAR announced his No. 18 Toyota failed postrace inspection because the left-front end was too low.
Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.
Gordon was helped Sunday once some of the early contenders fell off. Denny Hamlin, who led early and has four wins here, ran into tire woes and dropped back to 19th. Carl Edwards lost his grip on the points lead – his 40-point lead was sliced to six – when a bad engine knocked him out early. He finished 37th.
Once those two were out of contention, the 500-mile race belonged to Gordon. The Busch brothers tried to catch him, but just didn’t have enough in the end.
“I’m giving it all I’ve got and I just can’t close the gap,” Kurt Busch said.