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Tough Money Driver


DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. - - When the big money is on the line, Jeff Gordon usually rises to the occasion. But, make no mistake about it. No matter the prize money at stake, Gordon is as tough as they come.

He won the Winston Million in 1997, and won two million dollar bonuses in 1998 as part of the No Bull Five. He started 1999 with another million dollar bonus by winning the Daytona 500. With money on the line, Gordon is in the hunt. But, it's not the money that racing insiders admire about Gordon, it's his toughness under pressure.

NASCAR legend Bobby Allison recently said, "David Pearson was the best I've seen at saving a car until the end. Gordon's better." Former racer and car owner Junior Johnson echoed Allison's sentiments recently. After Gordon held off Jeff Burton to win at Darlington in September 1997, CNN/SI's Ed Hinton called him, "the toughest driver of his generation."

When the race is on the line, Gordon will often make daring moves. Never content to "settle for a top five" like so many of his competitors would, Gordon will take chances based on instinct. Instinct. As if he were born to do exactly what he's doing; winning races.

Bill Elliott led the 1997 Daytona 500 in the closing laps. On the frontstretch, Gordon drove low to pass Elliott. How low? Try two wheels beneath the yellow line where the banking of the track begins. At the aforementioned Darlington race in September 1997, Gordon dove low to block Jeff Burton's passing attempt on the final lap. In the first event of 1999, after winning three of the previous four NASCAR championships, Gordon put it "all on the line."

Often, a driver will race for points. He might be content to stay in the top ten all day finish strong. For Jeff Gordon, the only place to finish is in front. With Rusty Wallace seeking his first Daytona 500 win in 17 tries, Gordon, with drafting help from Dale Earnhardt, drove low to pass Wallace on the short straightaway heading to turn one at Daytona. He used the apron to draw even with Wallace but disaster loomed ahead. Ricky Rudd's car was on the apron moving at a slow rate of speed less than 300 yards in front. Gordon quickly moved up the track, careful not to hit Wallace, and raced three wide down the backstretch before taking the lead. "I came very close to having to lift off the gas," Gordon said after the race. "Rusty was doing everything he should have done. He ran me down low. There's a lot of apron there, and I utilized it as much as I could."

Some might call such a move foolish. Others might call it a major risk just to thrill a crowd. But Gordon's been thrilling crowds since he was 5 years old. That move on Wallace was simply part of "another day at the office." The pass on Wallace with 11 laps to go in the 1999 Daytona 500 was a risk; but it was also guts personified. With the victory in the event, Gordon is eligible for another $1 million payday on March 7 at Las Vegas. The biggest high roller in NASCAR looking for another jackpot in the town known for high stakes.

To those that doubted the Daytona 500 pass, take heart. It was calculated and performed by a champion. The toughest racer of his era; all 5'8" and 150 pounds of him.



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