What's left for Jeff Gordon?
At age 27, he's the youngest driver to win three Winston Cup championships. He's tied Richard Petty's modern record of 13 victories in a season, which had stood alone for more than two decades.
Maybe it's time for a new challenge. Perhaps Indy cars? Or maybe Formula One?
Gordon scoffs at that sort of speculation, preferring to remain on top of the stock car world even though he's constantly getting offers and feelers from other forms of racing.
Bobby Rahal asked him to give CART a try. Gordon declined. Former world driving champion Jacques Villeneuve discussed the possibility of going overseas to take a Formula One ride. Gordon said he's not interested.
"I like a lot of different race cars, but I'm happy and pleased to be where I'm at," Gordon said early Monday morning after winning the final Winston Cup race of the season, the rain-delayed NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "It doesn't get better than this. It's fun and exciting and always a challenge."
| Jeff Gordon is on top of the Winston Cup world, but how about Formula One? (AP) |
"People ask me what the challeng is when you're winning," said Gordon, who has won the championship in three of the last four years. "Well, the challenge is to keep doing what's expected of you and keep experiencing the happiness I'm experiencing right now."
Gordon's season was truly remarkable. He finished out of the top 10 only five times in 33 races, and equaled Petty's mark for victories, set by the King during a 30-race schedule in 1975.
Beginning with the Michigan race June 14, Gordon finished first in 10 events, second five times, third twice, fifth twice and seventh once -- averaging 175.3 points per race out of a possible 185 during that span. He also wiped away the only blip on his sterling record -- never having won a race in October or November before this year.
Even with Mark Martin having an exceptional season -- seven victories, 22 top-five finishes -- Gordon clinched the title in the next-to-last race of the season and wound up with the third-largest margin (364 points) in the last 20 years.
"I'm not going to try to put this year in any kind of category or give it any kind of historical perspective," he said. "I'm just going to enjoy it."
Gordon sees no reason to consider a new challenge in CART or the Indy Racing League, the rival, open-wheel circuits that clearly lack the popularity of Winston Cup.
He seems more intrigued by Formula One, the most popular form of racing in nearly every corner of the world -- the United States being a notable exception. Next year, for instance, the F-1 circuit will go to five continents, including new races in China and Malaysia.
"It's neat that they travel all around the world," Gordon said. "They do some exciting things in F-1. I get excited about their technology, their speed."
He went so far as to discuss the hypothetical career path he would take to Formula One, saying he would spend a year as a test driver to get accustomed to the various road circuits around the world. But he stressed he was only speculating and had no intention of leaving stock cars.
"I don't think there's any better level of competition or more exciting competition than we have in Winston Cup," he said. "I would rather be a part of something that's huge in America than be a part of (Formula One)."
The final Winston Cup race of 1998 epitomized the season. Through three rain delays and a race that ended under the lights nearly 11 hours after it was supposed to start, Gordon dominated.
He led 113 of the 153 green-flag laps in Sunday's race, shortened from 325 to 221 laps with another storm approaching and the clock approaching midnight. Gordon went to the lead for good on lap 215 and pulled away to beat Dale Jarrett by 10 car-lengths.
"We made a lot of adjustments, but it was just like that the whole year," Jarrett said. "He was just too good."
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