JOLIET, Ill. – When Jeff Gordon took the green flag Sunday afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway, a monumental milestone came with it.
The driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet SS tied former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Ricky Rudd for the most consecutive starts in NASCAR history with 788.
“It’s something I’ve put a lot of effort into over the years is to stay healthy and competitive and it’s hard to believe that I’ve been in that car every single race since 1992,” Gordon said. “It wasn’t something I really ever focused on throughout my career; I just always focused on working hard and staying healthy and being as committed to the team, from a driver’s standpoint, as they have been to me; and now here we are at 788. It’s pretty amazing.”
To Gordon’s point, he has never missed a race since his Nov. 15, 1992, debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
It marks the longest consecutive starts streak from the beginning of a career.
While Gordon said he’s “very proud” of accomplishing the feat, he gave credit to two previous “Ironman” record-holders – Rudd and another former Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Terry Labonte.
“Those guys are way tougher than me,” he smiled. “I’ve never had to tape my eyelids open to make the race. The one thing about it is that this sport is safer today than it ever has been. But I think it’s a little bit more demanding in some ways, from how hard you have to push. The cars are gripping so much better and the G-forces that we’re pulling through the corners, in that sense, I think the physical fitness side of it you have to really work on. But when you think of those guys and the conditions of the cars, they didn’t have any kind of air conditioning. They dealt with some major injuries and fought through, just like Terry. Being my teammate there, I’ve seen him race with a broken hand or wrist or whatever it was, was pretty amazing. I’ve had some injuries along the way that I’ve had to fight through, so I have a taste of it; but certainly nothing like those guys. Those guys are way tougher.”
Arguments about toughness aside, when Gordon takes the green flag this coming Sunday at New Hampshire, his consecutive starts streak will move to 789 – setting the new “Ironman” record.
And after a top-15 finish at Chicago, he will look to continue pushing toward the next round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in the process.