CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jeff Gordon came to North Carolina in 1990 to participate in the Buck Baker Racing School at Rockingham Speedway. He used the trip to make a sightseeing break at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Gordon's only firsthand knowledge of a superspeedway was Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and he'd heard so much about the facility in Charlotte that he just had to take a look.
''I came by here, knowing that the speedway was here, and I wanted to see it,'' Gordon recalled. ''I was so impressed driving by this place. There are just not many speedways that have the look of this one from the road. It was something really cool to see.''
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Four years later, Gordon picked up the first win of his Cup career at Charlotte. It was the launching point for a career that has tallied 92 victories and four series titles.
Gordon will make his final start at Charlotte on Saturday night. He's retiring next month and will move to a television job with Fox next year.
Most of the NASCAR tracks have honored Gordon, and he's been feted for a month by Charlotte Motor Speedway. He was also saluted at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where a Gordon exhibit was unveiled this week.
It's surreal when Gordon reflects to his first trip to the speedway.
''It's hard to believe, 25 years later or more, that now I come driving into the track and here's this huge sign with my name on it and the No. 24,'' Gordon said. ''The Hall of Fame, it was really special to see all the cars that I had a chance to drive over the years that got me here and the ones that I was able to do some special things with since I've been here.
''There's always something very special about Charlotte and about this race track. I hope this final ride here will do something special as well.''
Five of Gordon's career wins have come at Charlotte, where he's also won three All-Star races. Yet he goes into Saturday winless in his final season, and all too aware what one last trip to Charlotte's victory lane would mean.
Gordon wants to race for a fifth Cup championship, but would need to continue to advance through NASCAR's playoffs to make it to the season finale at Homestead next month. A win at Charlotte would earn him an automatic berth into the third round and ensure Gordon goes into the next two weeks - stressful races at Kansas and Talladega - knowing his title hopes are still intact.
''Nobody wants to go to Talladega, even if you're Dale Earnhardt Jr. ... go there and have to be in the top 10,'' Gordon said. ''It's just one of those tracks where there's too many variables that can reach out and grab you and things that are out of your control. So, yeah, we'd like to go in there with a cushion.''