CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When Jeff Gordon takes the green flag for Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he will set the mark as NASCAR’s new Iron Man.
Gordon will be making his 789th consecutive start, passing Ricky Rudd for the record. Rudd, who once used duct tape to keep his swollen eyes open so he could drive, set the mark in 2002 when he snapped Terry Labonte’s streak of 655 consecutive races.
Although proud of his mark, Gordon readily admits Rudd and Labonte suffered through far more than he ever did.
“Those guys are way tougher than me. I’ve never had to tape my eyelids open to make the race,” Gordon said. “When you think of those guys and the conditions of the cars, they didn’t have any kind of air conditioning, they dealt with some major injuries and fought through.”
Gordon and Labonte were teammates at Hendrick Motorsports, so Gordon saw Labonte’s perseverance firsthand during their 1996 NASCAR title fight.
Labonte broke his left wrist in a crash during practice at Phoenix, where he was leading Gordon in the championship battle with two races remaining. Not driving was never an option for Labonte, who went on to finish third and fifth to win the championship while competing with a splint and a cast on his wrist.
Gordon, who has battled a back injury the last several years, called the feat amazing.
“I’ve had some injuries along the way that I’ve had to fight through, so I have a taste of it, but certainly nothing like those guys,” Gordon said.
Gordon’s streak began with his Cup debut on Nov. 15, 1992, at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He has never missed a race and holds the record for the longest consecutive starts streak from the beginning of a career.
New Hampshire is also a fitting venue for the four-time champion to become the new Iron Man. He is the only driver to compete in all 41 Cup races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and leads all drivers in top-five finishes, top-10s, laps led and laps completed (11,967) at the 1.058-mile track.
Gordon is also 128 shy of 25,000 career laps led.
NASCAR PENALTIES: NASCAR issued penalties to a handful of teams Wednesday, including Danica Patrick’s team for an infraction during inspection and Kyle Busch’s team for failing post-race inspection after his Xfinity Series victory.
Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Chris Gayle was fined $12,500 and placed on probation until the end of the year because Busch’s car failed inspection after his win Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway.
JGR was also penalized because the car driven by Daniel Suarez had a right side vertical extension panel that was modified after pre-race inspection. Crew chief Eric Phillips and crew member John Egbert Jr. were placed on probation through the end of the year.
In the Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR said the right side quarter panel behind the rear wheel on Patrick’s car had been modified before qualifying. Crew chief Daniel Knost and car chief Pete White were placed on probation through the end of the year.
DALE JR. TO TV: When Dale Earnhardt Jr. saw some of his fellow drivers acting as guest analysts during Xfinity Series races, he tweeted he wanted a turn in the broadcast booth.
Fox listened and put together a deal with NASCAR’s most popular driver. He’ll be in the booth next season, but his races have not yet been determined.
“(Fox) extended the offer to me that we can give it a shot,” Earnhardt said. “I want to go up there next year and watch a few races, or watch one race, and see what I’m getting myself into. It looks like a lot of fun.”
Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray have all been in the booth this year for either Fox of NBC Sports Network.
“All the drivers who did it (looked great, sounded great, and they seemed to have a lot of fun doing it,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know if it’s a career path for me — it just depends.”
ARCA-ENFINGER: With two races to go in the ARCA Series, Grant Enfinger has built a 225-point lead in his quest to win his first series championship.
Enfinger, an Alabama native, won the first three races of the season for the second straight year, and heads into the final stretch as winner of three of the past four events. He has a comfortable lead over Josh Williams.
While Enfinger has won six of 18 races this year, ARCA has had 12 different winners in the other races. Among those 12 drivers, 10 of them are first-time winners in the series. That list includes Ross Kenseth, Todd Gilliland, Trevor Bayne, Ryan Reed and Cole Custer.
ARCA races this Friday at Kentucky Speedway, then closes the year Oct. 16 at Kansas Speedway.