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A race to remember: Gordon's first start

By Gray Caldwell

CONCORD, N.C.— This Sunday, Jeff Gordon will make his 750th start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

It just so happens to come at a racetrack that has seen plenty of Gordon's career milestones—including his very first start.

“There have been a lot of significant moments that have occurred during my career at Atlanta," Gordon said. "My first Nationwide win, my first Cup start, the 85th win, winning some championships there and this upcoming start."

At Atlanta Motor Speedway, Gordon leads all active drivers with five wins, 16 top-five finishes, 26 top-10s and 1,297 laps led.

It all started in the final race of the 1992 season.

“In my first Cup start, I was completely unaware of what I was getting into," Gordon recalled.

That year, Gordon had won three races in the now-Nationwide Series, and Hendrick Motorsports Owner Rick Hendrick called him up for the final race of the 1992 now-Sprint Cup series.

But now he was racing at a whole new level, and he was doing it alongside some of the sport's legends.

In fact, it would prove to be Richard Petty's final race.

"You throw Jeff Gordon into the mix, the first race he'd ever run and the last race I ran, it was big in the history of NASCAR," Petty said in 2008.

The race, which is still remembered fondly in NASCAR annals, didn't end exactly how Gordon would have wanted.

"I had a great race car, but I did everything I possibly could do to ruin that opportunity!" Gordon said.

After qualifying 21st, the rookie spun out and was ultimately scored in 31st place.

But that start put him on track for a long and successful career, and he said he still cherishes the fact that he got to race against Petty.

Now, 748 more starts later, Gordon is set to meet another milestone at the very same track on Sunday.

In the process, he has made Hendrick's quote from all the way back in 1992 seem prophetic.

"He's going to be around," Hendrick said of the rookie, "a long, long time."

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