May 12, 2013, 6:44 PM EDT
In his 700th career Sprint Cup Series start, Jeff Gordon became the fourth driver in NASCAR history to attain 300 Top-5 finishes in its premier category thanks to his third-place finish in last night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Gordon joins NASCAR icons Richard Petty (555 Top-5s), Bobby Allison (336), and David Pearson (301) as the only men to reach that plateau in their careers. The statistic is especially impressive when you put it in the context of active Cup drivers; Gordon’s 300 Top-5 results is the top mark by a country mile over second-place Tony Stewart with 174 and third-place Jimmie Johnson with 168.
“We’ve known for some time that this should be where it should happen,” said Gordon, who led the Chevrolet camp at ‘The Lady in Black.’ “I thought that was very cool. I think, looking back throughout my career, this track has been one of the best for me, a very special place. [It] holds so much history for this sport. To have the seven wins here that I have, I couldn’t think of a better place to come to and get the 700th start here. Then to go out there [tonight] and have a strong performance, it felt great.”
Gordon climbed into the lead toward the midway point of the race and while he was unable to hang on to it, he was still one of the top drivers in the field throughout the night. He lined up sixth on a restart following the caution at Lap 302, and over the last 65 laps, he was able to move into the Top 5.
A battle with Denny Hamlin for second place on the last lap didn’t go his way, but third place was still a much-needed result for Gordon, who had gone without a Top 5 finish since Martinsville.
“I wanted the 700th to be a memorable one, and I’m glad it wasn’t like last year’s memory where we blew two left rear tires back‑to‑back,” he said. “This was much better than that. Top three, that’s fantastic. I mean, we needed this kind of performance, a gutsy performance, for the points as well as to make this one memorable.”