Gordon remembers first victory

Posted: Sunday, May 30, 2004

CONCORD, N.C. Ten years ago, Jeff Gordon was a bit of an outcast when he sped to the first victory of his NASCAR career.

Born in California, raised in the midwest running open wheel cars in USAC, he drew the ire of NASCAR fans by regularly rubbing fenders with good ol' boys like Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott.

Gordon also was one of the first younger drivers to enter the sport with a competitive team, joining Hendrick Motorsports after two seasons in the Busch Series. He was rookie of the year in 1993 at 22 years old.

The next year, when he got that first win in the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Gordon added to his legacy as an interloper.

In victory lane, as he climbed out of his car, he wept openly. And continued crying for several minutes, uncontrollably at times. He even admitted after the race that he had a hard time seeing through the tears over the final laps.

It was a bit hard for some in the rough-and-tumble world of NASCAR to take.

''It was very emotional,'' Gordon said Saturday, reminiscing about that inaugural victory. ''Nothing will ever top that first win.''

And he still hears from fans who were watching that night.

''I'll be signing autographs and somebody will mention that, seeing how emotional I was,'' Gordon said. ''It was great night, and it was hard to not get emotional.''

Since that night, he has gone from precocious youngster to grizzled veteran. Gordon has four championships, 66 victories and earnings of nearly $60 million, and he's gained a measure of respect from his competitors and fans.

He's also been a favorite off the track, making several notable appearances. On June 2, he'll have his fifth stint as a co-host with Kelly Ripa of the daytime talk show ''Live with Regis and Kelly.'' Gordon is also a regular in People magazine's ''50 Most Beautiful People'' issue.

On the track, he's continued to do well at Lowe's, winning three more races and starting on pole seven times.

''I like it here, but it's a tough track to get comfortable on,'' Gordon said. ''It was just like this morning, we had every intention of the car being good, but it wasn't. We got it better toward the end of practice, and I think we'll be good in the race.''

He doesn't think often of that first win, preferring to look ahead to what he hopes will be many more. Most of the crew members from that night 10 years ago have moved on, too, including then-crew chief Ray Evernham.

Evernham now owns the Dodges of rookie Kasey Kahne and Jeremy Mayfield, and he has four victories in his new role.

''I'd rather talk about this being the future anniversary of my first win here for Evernham Motorsports,'' he said.

Gordon has a good chance to get another victory at Lowe's. He starts third Sunday night behind teammate Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman and turned the 13th-best lap in the final practice Saturday morning.

After those early struggles, he got the handling of his Chevrolet better for the second session.

''It's a long race,'' Gordon said. ''You can overcome one mistake, but you can't really overcome that many. It's hard to make too many adjustments, because you don't know what you'll have in the race. It's a long run.''

He got his crew chief back Saturday, too. Robbie Loomis wasn't at the track for practice and qualifying Thursday, deciding to visit his ill mother, Sally, in a Daytona Beach, Fla., hospital.

She is suffering from complications from a pancreas disorder.

''She's also had several blood clots and experienced some other problems,'' Loomis said. ''She's doing better, but she's got a long road to go. It's going to be tough.''

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