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The Callahan Report: Jeff Gordon, An American Success Story

1 November 1998

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
ROCKINGHAM, NC: No one knows how many times we will read the headline "Jeff Gordon Wins the NASCAR Winston Cup Championship." Chances are, we have not seen it for the last time. Jeff Gordon wrote the headline for the third time in four years at Rockingham Sunday.

Gordon only needed to finish 40th or better to take home his third Winston Cup title. He did much better than required. Gordon chased down Rusty Wallace, who had been dominate most of the day, and passed him with eight laps remaining in the AC Delco 400. It was Gordon's twelfth win of 1998.

Gordon had wrapped up the title much earlier in the race when he led a lap. NASCAR awards five bonus points for leading a race. By leading, Gordon earned the points he needed for the championship.

Until Sunday, no driver had ever won three titles before turning 30 years old. Richard Petty, "The King" of NASCAR, was 32 years old when he won his third title. Jeff Gordon, age 27, is on pace to exceed the records of the biggest name in NASCAR history.

Gordon may have already exceeded NASCAR's biggest name. He is one of the most recognizable personalities in the United States. As children stroll down department store aisles, they tug at their parent's sleeves pulling them towards the Jeff Gordon clad merchandise. From kids to senior citizens, Gordon has the world on a string.

He has come a long way in his six years of NASCAR racing. Gordon looked like he was barely old enough to drive a car, let alone be a championship contender, when he strolled through the pits at his first NASCAR race. There was a time when Gordon could walk with fans to the garage area almost unnoticed. Today, Gordon is surrounded by a dozen cops on those short walks around the racing grounds. He defines the American success story.

Gordon won his third title by staying in front of his competitors most of the time. If he was not the winner of a race in 1998, he was usually in the top five (25 times). He also kept the word "team" in mind throughout the year.

After winning Sunday, Gordon continued the team strategy as he commented, "Consistency is what wins a championship, and I think they proved what we're made of today. Just a great, great run for all of us." Gordon was referring to the famed "Rainbow Warrior" pit crew led by crew chief Ray Evernham.

Gordon continued, "We're thrilled to have this championship and to be able to do it the way we did it is awesome also."

Jeff Gordon matched two records belonging to Darrell Waltrip Sunday. Waltrip was the last driver to win 12 or more races in a season. He did it in 1982. Waltrip is also a three time Winston Cup Champion.

Gordon won his 41st NASCAR Winston Cup race Sunday. He passed Bill Elliott and the late Tim Flock with his victory. Only a dozen NASCAR drivers have ever won more than 41 races in their entire careers.

NASCAR is celebrating its 50th birthday in 1998. There are many more records to fall at the hands of Jeff Gordon. It is only fitting that a name like Jeff Gordon takes NASCAR into its second half-century.

Editors Note: The images displayed in this article (plus many more) can be viewed in The Racing ImageGalleries and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.