DARLINGTON, S.C. — Jeff Gordon is proud he has reached 700 consecutive Sprint Cup starts. He’s even prouder he has accomplished the feat while still near the top of the sport.
Gordon, 41, is third in series history with 87 wins. His landmark start came at Darlington Raceway in the Southern 500.
Gordon is 89 races from passing Ricky Rudd’s record consecutive starts in Sprint Cup. Gordon remains a series force. He’s made the Sprint Cup championship chase eight of the nine years it has been run.
And Gordon thinks his success if far from over.
“I know that this team is capable of it and I feel like I am,” Gordon said this week. “We won the last race at Homestead (in 2012). So, yeah, I think that means a lot to me.”
Gordon took time at Darlington to recall his rookie season 20 years ago when he was feeling his way in sport ruled by rough-and-tumble veterans ready to put you in a wall if you tried to pass. Soon enough, the driver once called “Wonder Boy” rose to the top. He won the first of his four Sprint Cup titles in 1995 and quickly became the favorite target of NASCAR fans who didn’t take to his California roots and clean-cut style.
“I always liked it when he got wrecked,” Denny Hamlin said of Gordon. “I don’t know. I wasn’t a huge Jeff Gordon fan growing up.”
Gordon persevered, he believes, because of his focus on victory each time the green flag dropped.
“I’ve been fortunate that along the way my main focus was not getting to 700,” he said. “It was going out there to win and be competitive.”
FORMULA ONE: In Barcelona, Spain, Mercedes will start the Spanish Grand Prix from the front row after Nico Rosberg had the fastest qualifying time ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton on Saturday.
While Hamilton had the fastest times in the first two qualifying sessions, Rosberg edged him to win the pole position in 1 minute, 20.718 seconds.
Three-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel will start from third spot for Red Bull ahead of Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus.
“I’m quite happy to be honest because yesterday and this morning I wasn’t really happy. We improved the car and things calmed down,” Vettel said. “It’s a tough challenge and the tires don’t last as well as we would like.”
The degradation of the Pirelli tires has been an issue all season, and drivers are still largely unhappy at how quickly they wear out.
Ferrari has yet to secure a pole position this season, and it proved to be another frustrating afternoon after fast practice times in the morning. Fernando Alonso will start fifth and Felipe Massa sixth,
Jenson Button failed to make the cut for the third session. The Briton will start in 14th place, with teammate Sergio Perez in ninth spot.
Massa had been fastest in the third and final practice session, edging Raikkonen by .006 seconds. Red Bull driver Mark Webber was third but he had a poor qualifying session and will start from eighth place, behind Lotus’ Romain Grosjean.
Following three frustrating seasons, Ferrari wants its drivers to find extra speed in qualifying to increase the pressure on Red Bull.
The closest Ferrari has been to pole was when Massa qualified second at the Malaysian GP in March. Alonso started the previous three races from third spot on the grid, but Saturday’s run will have left home fans on the Circuit de Catalunya feeling disappointed.
Mercedes has been fast but lacking durability this season, so Hamilton and Rosberg stayed on longer runs than other drivers in practice.