DARLINGTON, S.C. – It was the final race of the 1992 NASCAR Cup Series season at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Alan Kulwicki edged Bill Elliott out for his first and only championship in a banner year for the Wisconsin driver.
However, as Kulwicki was celebrating his championship (and Richard Petty celebrating his final NASCAR Cup Series race in an illustrious Hall of Fame career), another story quietly unfolded with a driver that would change the narrative of the sport forever, eventually leading to a NASCAR Hall of Fame career – driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Jeff Gordon.
In that Atlanta race, Gordon, who had won three races, captured 11 poles and finished fourth in the NASCAR Busch Series standings that same year, made his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the season finale (in a Rick Hendrick owned car), qualifying 21st and finishing 31st after suffering a crash 164 laps into the race.
Despite the brief setback in Atlanta in 1992, Gordon’s success that season still resonated with team owner Rick Hendrick, who signed him to a full contract for the 1993 Cup campaign earlier that year. After placing 14th in the final 1993 NASCAR Cup Series standings, Gordon would finally breakthrough in the 1994 season with two victories, his first at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and his second in the inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
He would finish 8th in the 1994 standings, but followed with seven race wins and his first championship in 1995. It would be the start to a tremendously successful NASCAR Hall of Fame career that ended with his retirement from full-time racing in 2015 (he raced eight races for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2016). He accumulated 93 career NASCAR Cup Series wins, which ranks third all-time in the sports history behind Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105).
For all his success, Gordon was inducted into both the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Feb. 1, 2019 and the NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) Hall of Fame on Jan. 27, 2019.
“Jeff Gordon is one of the greatest drivers in our sport’s history and his illustrious NASCAR career began during the time period we are celebrating for throwback weekend this year,” Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said. “He has had such a positive impact on NASCAR and his popularity and contributions have transcended our sport.”
Gordon also found tremendous success at Darlington Raceway, where he posted seven career victories at the track, including five Bojangles’ Southern 500 wins. He won four Bojangles’ Southern 500 races in a row from 1995-1998.
Darlington Raceway is celebrating the 1990-94 era for its Bojangles’ Southern 500 Throwback Weekend on Aug. 31-Sept. 1. As part of the celebration, the track Too Tough To Tame is highlighting specific moments and icons in the sport’s history each month leading into the Labor Day race weekend.