JOLIET, Ill. – One of the best parts of Jeff Gordon’s final season in Sprint Cup is the stories he’s recalled and retold.
And one he related Friday at Chicagoland Speedway has to be one of the best: the day he and Ricky Rudd almost came to blows.
Let’s set it up: It was during the 1994 Mello Yello 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Oct. 9, 1994. Gordon and Rudd were fighting for position for seventh place with about 10 laps remaining in the event.
Let’s turn the rest of the story over to Gordon, who will tie Rudd’s record of most consecutive starts (788) in Sunday’s MyAFibRisk.com 400, the opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“I almost got in a fight with Ricky Rudd one time – and I’m quite certain I would have lost that fight, yeah.
“We were in Charlotte, he was no longer my teammate, I was trying to pass him and had a little difficulty passing him, so I did a big slide job on him in the middle of (turns) 3 and 4.
“I don’t think he was happy about that and he basically pushed me all the way down the front straightaway and ended up wrecking both of us by the time we got to turn one.
“I showed my displeasure and he showed his displeasure. We had to get in an ambulance together to come back to the infield care center and we had many, many choice words. Nothing physical, but it got pretty heated.”
The two drivers eventually went their separate ways after being examined, until a chance run-in a couple days later.
“The funny part of that story is I just bought a house up by (Lake Norman, north of Charlotte, N.C.),” Gordon continued. “This car comes down the driveway, and I wondered who that is.
“I walked up, the car stops right about the time I realized it was Ricky and his wife. They were just out and about looking at houses.
“He wanted to back up fast, I could tell, but he didn’t, and we kind of laughed about it, talked about the incident, both apologized, and then we were done.”
Rudd broke Terry Labonte’s record for consecutive starts at 655 in the 2002 Coca-Cola 600, and Gordon – who was Hendrick Motorsports teammates with both at different points in his career – will break Rudd’s mark next week at Dover International Speedway.
Since the “Iron Man” title is considered by many as an indicator of toughness, Gordon was asked who was tougher: himself, Labonte or Rudd?
“Those guys were way tougher than me,” Gordon said with a chuckle. “I’ve never had to tape my eyelids open to make the race (as Rudd did in the 1984 Daytona 500 to keep his eyes open from swelling that resulted from an accident in the Busch Clash a week earlier).
“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 them. To see Terry, my teammate, race with a broken hand or wrist or whatever it was, it was pretty amazing.”