|Jeff Gordon then...|
On November 15, 1992, Gordon took the green flag at Atlanta Motor Speedway, driving the No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Today, four championships, 86 victories and nearly 20 years later, Gordon returns to the site of his first start; a race that also featured the final career outing for "King" Richard Petty and a tight championship battle won by owner/driver Alan Kulwicki.
"I don't remember too much about the weekend,” admits Gordon of that day, which culminated in a 21st 31st place finish after being involved in an accident. “But I do remember Richard walking through the garage with a huge number of fans with him. He gave us money clips with our starting position during the driver's meeting; something I still have to this day.
"Other than that, (it was) not that memorable of a race for me."
One Atlanta race that Gordon will not forget was last year's event, which ran on Tuesday evening after being delayed by rain. Gordon out-dueled Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson in the late laps to capture his 85th career victory and move into sole possession of third place on NASCAR's all-time career win list.
"I expect the track to be a lot faster at night (this weekend)," said Gordon, who has five wins, two poles, 15 Top-5 and 24 Top-10 finishes in 38 starts at the Georgia speedplant. "But I think we will still be able to race high, low and everywhere in between.
"I think one of the reasons so many drivers and teams love this place is the track has a lot of grip, a lot of banking and is a very fast race track - especially when looking at the qualifying speeds. It's very fast during the race, but it has a lot of fall off. Tire wear is significant and the balance of the car changes throughout a run."
While there have been many changes over the last 20 years -- competitors, manufacturers, car models, tracks, etc. -- one constant has been the combination of Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports and DuPont.
"They took a chance on me, there is no doubt about that," said Gordon. "But it turned into a great partnership.
"One that is approaching 20 years."
Photos: Peter Cosgrove/AP, NASCAR.com