Johnson City Press: Gordon inducted into NMPA Hall of Fame
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Gordon inducted into NMPA Hall of Fame

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Jan 27, 2019 at 8:11 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jeff Gordon made his mark as one of NASCAR's greatest drivers. On Sunday night, he officially became a Hall of Famer.

The four-time NASCAR champion was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the University Hilton. He is also scheduled to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame later this week.

With the first Hall of Fame induction chosen by media members who cover the sport, Gordon talked about his journey from a young driver to making it to racing's highest levels. He remembered a 1981 race with quarter-midgets and the 1990 Belleville Nationals for being two races that furthered his career.

Once in the Cup Series, he said the 1994 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis changed his life forever and made him a household name.

"There has been a lot of reminiscing the last few days," Gordon said. "I've thought of all the competitive times in the sport. The final win at Martinsville in 2015 stands out. Joey (Logano) and Matt (Kenseth) got together, but the competitor in me thought I still had the car to run them down.

"Martinsville was such a great track for me. The fans' reaction, it still sends chills how popular that win was."

Gordon, 47, was honored twice with the NMPA's Richard Petty Driver of the Year award during his racing career.

He ranks third all-time in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series in both wins (93) and pole positions (81). He won a first championship in 1995, becoming the youngest driver in the modern era to do so at 24 years old. He won championships in 1997, '98 and 2001. In 1998, he tied Richard Petty's modern-era record of 13 wins in a season.

Gordon made 805 career starts, including a record 797 consecutive starts, between 1992-2016 and was a three-time winner of the Daytona 500 and a record five-time winner of the Brickyard 400. He won four consecutive Food City 500s at Bristol Motor Speedway between 1995-98, and added a fifth Bristol victory at the 2002 August Night Race.

Those Bristol races included the bump-and-run move where he moved Rusty Wallace out of the way. While great friends now, Gordon explained that the two Hall of Fame drivers didn't like each other back then.

"I wouldn't call it hatred, that's too strong a word, but there were some hard feelings with me and Rusty," he said. "I bumped him out of the way a couple of times and then he wrecked me. I finally got him to admit it. We laugh about it now and we have a common respect.

"We've gone out to the desert three times and have raced in the sand dunes, no trophy on the line, but pride on the line, and I love passing him every chance I get. This last time, I couldn't pass him and I saw he was really happy about that, throwing the sand in my face. We have fun now, but we didn't have much fun back then."

After retiring from the Cup Series, Gordon was part of the winning team at the 2017 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, joining A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Jamie McMurray as the only drivers to win both that event and the Daytona 500.

Now an analyst for Fox Sports, Gordon said the current role helps him still contribute to the sport he loves.

"I love motorsports and NASCAR is my favorite form of motorsports," Gordon said. "I always want to give back to the sport that has been so good to me. Being on television, I feel, allows me to do that."

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