HAMPTON, Ga. – Hard to believe it has been 20 years. Well, almost.
On Nov. 15, 1992, Jeff Gordon made his debut in NASCAR’s premier division at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Chevrolet. Now, four championships, 86 victories and nearly 20 years later, Gordon returns to the site of his first start – a race marked by “The King” Richard Petty’s final start and a tight championship battle won by owner/driver Alan Kulwicki. The 21-year old mustached Gordon was merely a postscript that day, starting 21st and finishing 31st after being involved in an accident.
“I don’t remember too much about the weekend, but I do remember Richard walking through the garage with a huge number of fans with him,” said Gordon, who will drive the No. 24 DuPont “Performance Coatings” Chevrolet in Sunday’s AdvoCare 500. “And he gave us money clips with our starting position during the driver’s meeting – something I still have to this day.
“Other than that, not that memorable of a race for me.”
One very memorable race here for the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion was last year’s event that was delayed until Tuesday. Gordon out-dueled Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson during the waning laps to capture his 85th career victory and move into sole possession of third on NASCAR’s all-time career wins list. But that event was run during the day while Sunday’s race is scheduled to occur at night.
“I expect the track to be a lot faster at night,” said Gordon, who has five wins, two pole positions, 15 top-five finishes and 24 top-10s in 38 starts at the Georgia track. “But I think we will still be able to race high, low and everywhere in between.
“I think one of the reasons so many drivers and teams love this place is the track has a lot of grip, a lot of banking and it is a very fast racetrack – especially when looking at the qualifying speeds. It’s very fast during the race but it has a lot of fall off, so tire wear is significant and the balance of the car changes throughout a run.”
While there have been a lot of changes over the course of 20 years – competitors, manufacturers, car models, tracks, etc. – one constant has been Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports and DuPont.
“They took a chance on me, there is no doubt about that,” said Gordon. “But it turned into a great partnership.
“One that is approaching 20 years.”