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Where is Jeff Gordon’s rightful place among the greatest drivers of all time?

By admin | June 15, 2011

By Richard Allen


With the names of the third class of NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees having just been announced and with Jeff Gordon having just won his 84th Sprint Cup race in Pocono on Sunday, I have decided to give my own personal ranking of this particular driver among the greats of all time.

It is always difficult to compare athletes of one era against athletes of another era which makes any ranking of this type highly subjective and open to question. But in the grand scheme of things, I rate Gordon as the second greatest driver in NASCAR history.

Now that I’ve placed Gordon so highly, I am going to have to defend that statement, especially to the many who have dedicated much of their sporting fandom to rooting against the driver once known as the ‘Rainbow Warrior’.

In my opinion the top-7 greatest drivers of all time are relatively easy to list. Hall of Famers Richard Petty, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Allison along with soon to be Hall of Famers Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip join Gordon in that ranking. No doubt, after a few more years of competition, current driver Jimmie Johnson will join these others on that list.

In my view, Petty outranks all other drivers. His 200 wins are essentially twice as many as compiled by anyone else. And more, he won seven NASCAR championships and he won the sport’s biggest race seven times. All combined, no one even approaches those numbers.

But after Petty, the debate rages for second greatest. A case could easily be made for each of those mentioned above. So here is my case for Gordon.

His win in Pocono on Sunday broke Gordon out of a tie with Yarborough and into a three way tie with Allison and Waltrip for third at 84 wins. That move was significant in my ranking of Gordon as second greatest.

To me, there are three important categories that ought to be used in the ranking of drivers. The number of championships achieved at the highest level, the total number of wins at the highest level and the number of wins in major races such as the Daytona 500, the Southern 500, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Brickyard 400 all play a factor in determining greatness, or levels of greatness.

As said before, Petty outdistances all others when all three categories are combined in my view. But as I see things, Gordon’s win on Sunday allows him bragging rights over the others, not so much in that wins at Pocono are that important, but in that two of his competitors in the ranking lost a key advantage they were barely clinging to.

In terms of numbers of championships, Gordon ranks behind Petty(7), Earnhardt(7), and Johnson(5). If championships alone were used to determine a driver’s greatness Gordon would rank fourth. So obviously, on my scale he has some catching up to do, particularly with Earnhardt, if he is to rise to second place.

Pearson, Waltrip and Yarborough each won three championships and Allison a single season crown.

None of Pearson’s titles came in the so-called modern era of 1972 to the present. While many will argue that this driver would have won more titles had he raced full time for more years, the simple fact is he did not. To make such an argument would then open the door for a case to be made that Gordon has lost two trophies because of the Chase for the Championship, both of which are based in speculation.

The championships of Waltrip and Yarborough all came in the modern era but still fall one shy of Gordon’s number.

As was mentioned earlier, Gordon is now tied with Waltrip and Allison in numbers of total wins. The tie took away the advantages once held by those two and now allows Gordon titles to push him ahead of them because of his achievements in the other categories.

Also, it is in total wins where Gordon gains on Earnhardt. ‘The Intimidator’ had 76 career victories which places him eight behind the total amassed by the driver he once dubbed ‘The Boy Wonder’.

Aside from Gordon’s raw number of wins, he has also proven himself to be a ‘big race racer’ as well. Three Daytona 500s, three Coca-Cola 600s, six Southern 500s(including one that gave him the now defunct ’Winston Million’ bonus) and four Brickyard 400s(including the inaugural event) have all been collected by Gordon.

If those four races are to be considered NASCAR’s crown jewels, and a many will agree that they are, then Gordon has amassed a very impressive sixteen victories in the races that mean the most.

There are any number of ways to rate drivers against one another. All of which are open to debate. I have provided mine which has led me to place Jeff Gordon as the second greatest driver of all time. Each reader may well have his/her own view which is what makes these comparisons of drivers from different eras fun.

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6 Responses to “Where is Jeff Gordon’s rightful place among the greatest drivers of all time?”

  1. Bill B Says:
    June 16th, 2011 at 6:45 am

    I won’t argue with you (since I’m a Gordon fan) but these discussions, while fun, are a waste of time. Let’s just say Jeff is probably in the top 5 all-time and leave it that.

  2. Tyler West Says:
    June 16th, 2011 at 7:53 am

    I would agree that Gordon is at the very top of the all time greats list behind only Petty. I’m a Bush brothers fan but Gordon is great and he will be considered one of the best, and far better than Johnson, who benefited from Gordon’s success. Gordon meets all the criteria to be considered great, 84 wins (and counting), 4 titles, 16 wins in the big races, and he is 1 of two men to win the real Winston Million.

  3. The Mad Man Says:
    June 16th, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Gordon’s got to win another championship or two to be considered higher than 5th overall/all-time in my book.

    Right now, in the WWE era of NASCAR and open race manipulation, he falls in 2nd behind Johnson.

  4. Overra88ted Says:
    June 16th, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Gordon will easily be in the top 5, though probably would have been at top 3 if not top 2 if it weren’t for Brainfart France. Gordon, who when his career was entering his peak years had the Idiot Brian France put the Na$crap 10 race do-over chase installed and then the POS COT, both of which affected Gordon’s stat’s.

  5. Keith Says:
    June 17th, 2011 at 11:02 am

    In my opinion he is in the top 10 but no way number 2. He never drove for a bad team and pulled off a win or a championship and every driver who ever drove for Hendick motor sports has a win and 2 other drivers have won Championships and Jimmie has won 5 while he was his teammate which is more than he has had total and he has had better equipment than most of his competitors his entire career. Then the biggest reason he can’t be number 2 is number 2 should always be the best driver on his team and he has not been that for 7 or 8 years and he is only 40. He can’t even beat his teammate most weeks with the same engines,cars,notes and the same resourses no way is he number 2 and I’m not saying Jimmie is better either.

  6. Aaron Says:
    June 18th, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    I agree on your review of Gordon’s career, @Keith, how can you say that being the best driver on your team is the measuring stick for one’s greatness. The only reason Richard Petty was the best car on his team late in his career because he was the only car on his team. I also think that one way to think of this as well is that, in all but his Championship in 2001, he was able to beat Dale Sr.& Darrell Waltrip (i realize he sucked from 1993 on). I think his domination of a time when the competitiveness of the sport went through the roof, proves how good he was, and also you have to pro-rate Richard Petty’s and David Pearson’s wins because how many of those were on a Tuesday Night in the Asheville Weaverville speedway 100? with a weaker field?