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Gordon already looking ahead to April, Darlington

Published: Thursday, March 13, 2014 11:50 p.m. CDT
(Ross D. Franklin)
Jeff Gordon is the active leader in wins at Darlington Raceway with seven. This year, the race has been moved to April from September, but Gordon doesn't think the change will make much of a difference.

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Jeff Gordon's grown accustomed to change in NASCAR, especially at Darlington Raceway.

The four-time Sprint Cup series champion has won races at the track "Too Tough To Tame," in March, May, August and September, and is ready for Darlington's latest schedule shift when the Southern 500 takes place April 12th.

Gordon says things are always changing in stock car racing, and when Darlington holds its race does not matter – as long as he's lined up at the starting line. Gordon is the series' active leader with seven victories at Darlington, trailing Hall of Famers David Pearson with 10, and the late Dale Earnhardt with nine.

"It's still Darlington," he said. "The track conditions might change slightly, but you want to be positive and open-minded about what's best for the fans, for the sport."

After all, "The Lady in Black" was a much different layout when a young Gordon first drove it in a Busch Grand National car in the early 1990s. The start-finish line was on the backstretch, there were no lights, and the surface was the same tire-chewing asphalt racers like Pearson and Richard Petty grew up on.

Gordon quickly grew to love it, and became the Darlington master of this latest generation of racers. His last victory here came in May 2007. Since then, the track has been repaved, which Gordon believes has evened the playing field among competitors at Darlington.

"We've had to more aggressive with the new pavement, and that may have taken away a little advantage of what we had," he said.

It hasn't slowed him down too much: Gordon has finished in the top five in four of the past six Southern 500s.

Gordon visited the track Thursday, meeting fans purchasing tickets for next month's event, and taking a prize-winner for a pace-car ride around Darlington.

Two Sisters, 7-year-old Leanna and 6-year-old Kayla Sheffield, are huge Gordon fans, and got to miss school to see their favorite driver. The girls gave him a black-and-white checkered-flag pattern scarf for his own 6-year-old daughter, Ella Sophia.

"Thanks, this will keep her really warm," Gordon said, draping the scarf around his neck.

Gordon's visit finished at an area food bank before he left for Bristol, Tenn., and this weekend's Food City 500, where his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team will try and continue its strong start this season.

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