Jeff Gordon made two important passes Sunday in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. He passed Jamie McMurray for the lead with four laps to go and then held on for the 77th victory of his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup career, which enabled him to pass the late Dale Earnhardt for sixth place on the all-time win list.
The victory was the ninth all-time at Talladega Superspeedway for car owner Rick Hendrick, tying him with Richard Childress for the most at the track. It also was Gordon’s fifth career victory at Talladega, moving him into a tie for second place on the all-time list with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
But the most important number was 77, a milestone victory that leaves Gordon behind only five other drivers - Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarbrough – in the history of NASCAR.
"That’s a huge number," said Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, who finished second in Sunday’s race. “I’m shocked I have the 26 (career victories) that I have, but 51 more, that’s a lot.”
Gordon, who became the first driver to win from the pole at Talladega Superspeedway since Bobby Labonte in 1998, also seemed somewhat overwhelmed by the magnitude of his career victory total.
“It’s hard for me to really put into perspective 77 wins and this whole day and the career that I’ve had,” Gordon said. “I’m just thrilled to death to drive for (Hendrick). I want to appreciate it and enjoy it, and I also want to keep it going.”
Kurt Busch finished third, followed by David Gilliland in fourth and McMurray in fifth. Rounding out the top-10 were Kevin Harvick in sixth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. seventh, David Stremme eighth, Ryan Newman ninth and Martin Truex, Jr. 10th.
There were 42 lead changes in the race among 20 different drivers. Gordon led the most times (10) and for the most laps (71). But he was in 14th place on a restart with only 10 laps to go, and at the time he admitted that victory No. 77 seemed unlikely.
“Realistically, I didn’t think we were going to (win),” Gordon said. “I would have been happy just to finish in the top-10. I didn’t feel like I was going to be anywhere close to the front. But I knew we had a strong car.”
Gordon proved that by storming to the front in less than seven full laps. He took the lead from McMurray seconds before a caution flag came out on lap 185 for oil on the track.
“So much happened (near the end), it was like a blur,” Gordon said. “Everything got shuffled up, and that’s when the race started to come to us. … My job was just to put my foot on the floor, pick the right lane and get some momentum.”
In other words, Gordon took a chance and rolled the dice. And came up with nothing but 7s.
“For the next few days, I’m sure I’ll reflect on it and think how cool it is to have 77 victories,” Gordon said. “But I can tell you that shortly after that, it’s going to be business as usual. One day I hope to have the opportunity to look back on every one of them and realize just how special it’s been, and the career that I’ve had and all the wins that I’ve had.”
Tickets for the UAW-Ford 500 Weekend on Oct. 5-7 are available by calling 1-877-Go2-DEGA or visiting www.racetickets.com