It may not be tame or the same, but respect is what Jeff Gordon will give Darlington Raceway as he prepares for his 700th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start this Saturday night in the Bojangles' Southern 500.
Darlington Raceway has earned a few monikers since it opened in 1950. "The Track Too Tough to Tame" and "The Lady In Black" are two of those, and drivers tend to use the term "respect" when describing how they attack the 1.366-mile South Carolina track. A new element - the Generation-6 car - will be added to the mix this weekend, but a winning recipe will still include respect.
"The Chevy SS will be fast and have a lot of grip," said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Cromax® Pro Chevrolet. "But racing the track while working traffic will be as tough as ever.
"I always look forward to racing here. It's a great track that is fast and exciting, but it's one you must respect. We've run well here the last couple of times, so I'm looking forward to the event."
Saturday's race marks Gordon's 700th start - all consecutively - in NASCAR's premier series. The four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion comprehends the milestone, but does not focus on it.
"I've been fortunate to race this long and have the type of career I've had," said Gordon. "It's really cool to see that this will be my 700th start, but it's not something I really paid attention to.
"It's hard to believe I've run that many - especially consecutively."
In 32 starts at the egg-shaped oval, Gordon has three poles and 21 top-10's. He is also tops among active drivers in the following statistical categories: seven wins, 18 top-fives and 1,720 laps led - 903 laps more than any other driver (nearly the equivalent of 2.5 races). But those statistics have occurred over the course of a 21-year career when many things change.
"They repaved Darlington a few years back, so it's not the same track it used to be 10 years ago," said Gordon. "But it's still one of those tracks where you have to push hard but be patient.
"And it's still one of those tracks you must respect."