Jeff Gordon on win in 1994 Coca-Cola 600: 'That day solidified my journey'

Editor’s note: Watch Sunday’s pre-race show at 4:30 p.m. ET on FS1 to see the Photo Finish video feature of Jeff Gordon’s victory in the 1994 Coca-Cola 600.

Before Jeff Gordon was the legendary four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion he’s known as today, he was the new kid on the block, with the eyes of team owners eager to see if this young hotshot could live up to the hype of his potential.

Enter the 1994 Coca-Cola 600.

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The first 41 races of Gordon’s career in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet provided glimpses of greatness in addition to some struggles. The 1993 season — Gordon’s rookie campaign — saw seven top-five finishes, 11 top 10s and 230 laps led coupled with a career-worst 11 DNFs.

“My rookie year was a real up-and-down year,” Gordon recently recalled to NASCAR Studios. “There were highlights where we ran really strong. We sat on the pole at Charlotte late in the year. We ran second, I believe, in my first ever 600 to (Dale) Earnhardt. We really showed promise, but we also… not we, me… (I) wrecked a lot, tore up a lot of equipment, and it was not the greatest confidence booster.”

Race No. 42, on the other hand, proved to be the breakout race he and crew chief Ray Evernham dreamt of.

MORE: Relive the entire 1994 NASCAR Cup Series season | NASCAR 75 hub

Gordon won the pole at 181.439 mph, but Rusty Wallace controlled the dominant car in the 1994 running of NASCAR’s longest race, pacing the field for 187 of 400 laps in his No. 2 Miller Genuine Draft Ford. Geoff Bodine’s No. 7 Exide Batteries Ford led early and often for a combined 101 circuits, but Wallace took control as the race neared its halfway point.


As would prove consistent in their tenure together, Evernham knew the Rainbow Warriors were far from out of contention.

“Rusty had that race won and was the dominant car that day,” Gordon said. “But we kept ourselves in position, we fought hard, and sometimes that’s all you need to do is be in position to capitalize. And we did by clearly a great strategy call, a two-tire pit stop, a fast two-tire pit stop, and then up against Rusty’s four-tire stop.”

That decision propelled the iconic red, blue and yellow No. 24 Chevrolet to the lead for 12 of the final 22 laps, including each of the final nine circuits en route to Gordon’s first career victory.

CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 29: Jeff Gordon in victory lane following the Coca-Cola 600 on May 29, 1994 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 22-year-old\
CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 29: Jeff Gordon in victory lane following the Coca-Cola 600 on May 29, 1994 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 22-year-old\

The emotion was palpable from the then-22-year-old, tears streaming down his face in Victory Lane as he proclaimed: “This is the greatest day of my life.” Nearly 30 years later, that emotion still bursts through Gordon, who now reigns as the vice chairman at Hendrick Motorsports.


“There was a lot of emotion wrapped up in that win because I felt like it was a huge accomplishment,” Gordon said. “Number one, you just want to win. You just hope you could win one race at that level … elite drivers, teams. And I realized how competitive and hard and difficult it was going to be right away. So that day solidified my journey up to that point of, yeah, I have what it takes, we have what it takes and decisions that were made were the right ones to finally accomplish this. And there was no looking back after that.”

Indeed, what followed was a career loaded with unfathomable statistics, totaling a third-best all-time 93 wins, 325 top fives, 477 top 10s and 81 pole positions, including his four Cup championships in 805 starts. Gordon became a transcendent figure for NASCAR, hosting “Saturday Night Live” among numerous appearances in mainstream media.

That level of success was impossible for Gordon to imagine prior to winning the 600 in 1994.

“No way. No way. At that moment, I was just over the moon having one win,” Gordon said. “And of course, that (inaugural) Brickyard 400 was two, three months after that. So we did have our eyes on that and by accomplishing that (win), it did feel like 600, Brickyard 400, sky’s the limit now. But no way could I have ever imagined the race wins, the championships, or even that was going to be a 23-year-long career of tremendous success and great memories.”