Jeff Gordon holds a strong reputation as one of the greatest NASCAR drivers. Gordon‘s passion and skill behind the wheel led him to a tremendously successful career. His racing journey could have led him down another path away from NASCAR had things broken in another direction.
Jeff Gordon’s NASCAR career
Jeff Gordon burst onto the scene as the next great generational talent in the early 1990s.
Gordon accomplished it all on the track as he won four Cup Series championships, ranks third all-time with 93 Cup Series victories, and won the Daytona 500 three times. Gordon holds the all-time mark with 12 restrictor-plate track wins and nine road course victories.
His dominance on the track established him as one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. However, his racing career would have taken a much different journey had things played out a little differently.
Jeff Gordon is ‘Almost 100% confident’ he would’ve avoided his biggest NASCAR regret if he was younger
Before Jeff Gordon embarked on the path toward becoming a NASCAR driver, he had a strong interest in Indycar growing up in Indiana.
Gordon attempted to get his foot into the door to pursue a career in that realm at an early age, but it never came to fruition. Instead, he ran with the opportunity to become a professional NASCAR driver.
During an interview with fellow Hall of Fame driver Tony Stewart in January 2020 on behalf of AXALTA World of Racing, Gordon revealed that he would have raced IndyCar had the Indy Racing League been established earlier.
“If the IRL had been place, I feel almost 100% confident that I would have driven Indycars,” Gordon said. “I will say that’s the one regret I have is that I didn’t get to race in the Indy 500. When the opportunity did come up, I was like, ‘no, no, no, I’m not going to do it now. I would have done it when I was 19 or 21, not now when I’m 35.'”
Gordon’s path toward getting into NASCAR wasn’t one he searched for, but rather it presented itself to him due to his talent. His passion is racing, and his childhood intrigue was Indycar. The timelines didn’t line up as he became a full-time Cup Series driver in 1993.
Meanwhile, the Indy Racing League didn’t come about until 1996, highlighted by the Indianapolis 500. In the late 1990s, he was offered to drive for Team owner Barry Green, but he declined the offer.
Had the timelines been different, Gordon would have had a much different driving career.
Led the Indianapolis 500 as a pace car driver
Although Jeff Gordon didn’t get to explore an Indycar career at a young age, he did get the opportunity to get on the track.
In 2015, Gordon received the chance to step into the pace car to lead the Indianapolis 500. He drove a Corvette Z06 for the 99th running of the event in May that year.
“I certainly have had plenty of opportunities to make laps around this track before,” Gordon said via a press release. “But never have I had the experience like I’m having here today, to be honored as being the pace car driver, to get the chance to drive that amazing Corvette Z06.”
It marked his first visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1983 when he was only 11 years old. Gordon never got the opportunity to he wanted to compete in the Indianapolis 500, but this is the next best thing that he will cherish forever.