SPARTA, Ky. – At Kentucky Speedway, Jeff Gordon will attempt to be first in the first—for the fourth time.
Among Gordon’s 84 career victories are three inaugural event wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994, Auto Club Speedway in 1997 and Kansas Speedway in 2001 (four other tracks have been added to the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule since 1994 with no other driver winning multiple inaugural races).
Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 marks the first visit for the Sprint Cup Series to Kentucky, and it also could mark the fourth trip to Victory Lane in a first-time event for the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet.
“It may be our first race here, but a lot of drivers have logged a lot of miles here,” said Gordon, who has climbed from 16th to eighth in the standings with four top-six finishes in the last five races. “Some of the guys have run (NASCAR) Nationwide events here, and we used to test here all the time—this was one of the tracks we could test at before it became a Cup track.
“Going back to those old testing notes will give us some information, but (Hendrick Motorsports teammate) Mark Martin participated in the tire test here earlier this year. That’s the most current data we have with these cars and setups we’re running today. It’s been a while since I’ve tested here, so it’ll be interesting to see what has changed.”
Gordon will get a re-introduction to the circuit during a test day on Thursday.
“It could take two or three laps, or it could take 100 before you get comfortable on the track,” Gordon said. “We’ve got a lot of track time scheduled for Thursday, so that should give us a good opportunity to get close (with the setup). “There are a lot of unknowns like where you can push the limits, where your car is going to handle the best and what characteristics the track will have as the race goes on. Does the track get looser or tighter in certain parts of the corner?”
One of Gordon’s inaugural event wins occurred at Kansas Speedway, and he believes that 1.5-mile track—where he has two wins and eight top-five finishes in 11 starts—most closely resembles Kentucky.
“I would say the closest thing we run would be Kansas,” said Gordon. “Every mile-and-a-half track has a similarity as far as speed and grip level, so you try to maximize that. “But while Kentucky has a lot more grip, it’s a little bit rougher than some of the other tracks. It’s also fairly flat, but it’s surprising how fast we get around here.”