(June 18, 2002)- - Jeff Gordon scored the 200th top ten finish
of his Winston Cup career with a fifth place finish in the Sirius 400 at
Michigan Speedway. The more remarkable statistic is how quickly he has
accomplished the career milestone-- at 30 years of age and in only 308
career starts (64.9% of his finishes in the top ten).
No driver in the modern era (post 1972) of Winston Cup racing has accomplished
the feat in a shorter amount of time. Only Richard Petty did it at a younger age.
Here's how Jeff Gordon matches up against some of his contemporaries
and legends of the sport in terms of top ten finishes.
200th top ten in 312th career start
64.1% of finishes in top ten
Accomplished in 1989 (was 38 years old)
Dale Earnhardt's 200th career top ten finish came in the 1989 Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Earnhardt finished 8th in a race won by Davey Allison. It was his 312th career Winston Cup start in his 11th full season on the circuit. He had already won three of his seven Winston Cup titles and would battle down to the wire with Rusty Wallace in 1989 for the championship with Wallace edging him out by a scant 14 points.
200th top ten in 328th career start
60.9% of finishes in top ten
Accomplished in 1984 (was 37 years old)
Three-time Winston Cup champion Darrell Waltrip scored his 200th top ten finish in the 1984 Pepsi 420 at Nashville Speedway. Waltrip, driving the #11 Budweiser Chevrolet, finished second under the lights at Nashville to Geoff Bodine who won the second race in the history of Hendrick Motorsports. Waltrip was in his 11th full season on the circuit and was in his fourth season driving for Junior Johnson. Waltrip failed to capture the Winston Cup title in 1984, but would regain his crown in 1985.
200th top ten in 348th career start
57.4% of finishes in top ten
Accomplished in 1997 (was 38 years old)
Mark Martin's 200th top ten finish came in the 1997 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Martin, in his 11th full season on the circuit, finished seventh on a day highlighted by Jeff Gordon holding off Jeff Burton on the final lap to win the Winston Million. Martin made his Winston Cup debut with his own team in the early 80's but financial issues forced him out of the series and back to the American Speed Association. In 1986 he signed on with a Michigan-based engineer looking to start a Winston Cup team. The combination of Martin and Jack Roush has been one of the successful longstanding driver-owner combinations in Winston Cup history.
200th top ten in 348th career start
57.4% of finishes in top ten
Accomplished in 1990 (was 33 years old)
Terry Labonte's 200th top ten finish came in the AC Spark Plug 500 at Pocono Raceway. Labonte, in his 12th full season on the circuit, finished 10th behind race winner Geoff Bodine. Though only 33 years old, the 1984 Winston Cup champion was at a career crossroads having left Junior Johnson's team. Labonte's career would turn around in 1994 when he joined Hendrick Motorsports. The twelve year gap between championships (1984,1996) is the longest such gap for any Winston Cup champion between their first and second titles.
200th top ten in 358th career start
55.8% of finishes in top ten
Accomplished in 1992 (was 36 years old)
Bill Elliott's 200th career top ten finish came in the 1992 Hanes 500 at Martinsville Speedway. In his 12th full season on the circuit, Elliott finished 10th in a race won by Mark Martin. After leaving Harry Melling's #9 Coors team after the 1991 season, Elliott drove Junior Johnson's #11 Budweiser Ford in 1992. He won four consecutive races early in the season but lost the Winston Cup title by 10 points to Alan Kulwicki-- the closest margin in Winston Cup history.
200th top ten in 380th career start
52.6% of finishes in top ten
Accomplished in 1996 (was 39 years old)
An expert on chassis setup, Rusty Wallace has long dominated short track racing. His more than 50 victories are a testament to that. Wallace's 200th top ten finish came in the 1996 Diehard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Wallace, in his 13th season on the circuit, finished 10th to race winner Jeff Gordon. Though the race will be remembered for a violent crash in the closing stages which began when Ernie Irvan tapped the left rear of Sterling Marlin's car. Marlin turned sideways into Dale Earnhardt, sending the seven-time champion head-on into the frontstretch wall. Earnhardt's car turned over and was hit by oncoming traffic. Remarkably he climbed from the wreckage with only a broken sternum and bruises.
200th top ten in 426th career start
46.9% of finishes in top ten
Accomplished in 1991 (was 34 years old)
Ricky Rudd has quietly put together one of the most consistent careers in Winston Cup racing. His 200th top ten finish came in the 1991 Motorcraft 500 at Atlanta. Rudd, in his 14th Winston Cup season, finished sixth to Ken Schrader in the event.
200th top ten in 440th career start
45.4% of finishes in top ten
Accomplished in 1993 (was 53 years old)
Perhaps the smoothest driver I've ever seen race. Harry Gant started his Winston Cup career relatively late-- when he was 37 years old. Gant's 200th top ten finish came in the Holly Farms 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Gant, in his penultimate season, finished sixth behind race winner Rusty Wallace.
200th top ten in 441st career start
45.3% of finishes in top ten
Accomplished in 2001 (was 44 years old)
Dale Jarrett's 200th top ten finish came in the 2001 Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. Jarrett, in his 15th season on the circuit, finished fourth behind race winner Kevin Harvick. Jarrrett, who began his Winston Cup career at the age of 30, is a three-time Daytona 500 winner and the 1999 Winston Cup champion. He won his first race in 1991 driving for the Wood Brothers, joined Joe Gibbs Racing from its infancy in 1992 and won the 1993 Daytona 500, and signed with Robert Yates Racing in 1995 where he has reached a level of success few in the sport have ever attained.
Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, and Bobby Allison are four of the five winningest drivers in Winston Cup history. Darrell Waltrip is tied in career wins with Allison, but all of Waltrip's 84 victories came in the "modern era" (post 1972). Before 1972, NASCAR records were not as detailed as they are today. Race by race statistics for events before 1972 are ambiguous at best. While the winners are certain the rest isn't as clear. In addition, drivers often raced upwards of 60 races per season. Petty had the advantage of having factory support at a time when such an advantage was non-existant. Nevertheless, Jeff Gordon's top ten rate can be compared to legends of the sport whose careers began before the official designation of a "modern era" for the sport.
200th top ten in 299-306 career starts
65-66% of finishes in top ten
Accomplished in 1966 (was 28 years old)
200th top ten in 304-311 career starts
64-65% of finishes in top ten
Accomplished in 1969 (was 34 years old)
200th top ten in 317th career start
63% of finishes in top ten
Accomplished in 1974 (was 36 years old)
200th top ten in 349th career start
57.3% of finishes in top ten
Accomplished in 1978 (was 39 years old)
With 200 top ten finishes in just 308 career starts, Jeff Gordon's statistics
match up with the most successful drivers in the history of the sport.
While Petty's record of 200 victories is likely unreachable, nearly every other
performance statistic is up for grabs. Should he continue on his record pace,
the name Jeff Gordon will be atop most of NASCAR's statistical categories
in the not too distant future.
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