By Ben White
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, recorded 10 victories, 23 top-10 finishes and one pole position in 1997, as the California driver claimed his second NASCAR Cup Series championship in three years.
Even though Gordon was unable to defend his title in 1996, the Cup Series championship remained with Hendrick Motorsports as teammate Terry Labonte claimed the top prize.
Gordon returned as Cup Series champion in 1997 following an impressive double-digit series of victories. His famed No. 24 rainbow-colored Chevrolet went to Victory Lane in the season-opening Daytona 500, the perfect start to a promising year. A second win during Week 2 at Rockingham Speedway solidified the team as one of the strongest contenders in the Cup Series garage area.
Other drivers and teams began to emerge as early season winners, such as Rusty Wallace of Penske Racing, Dale Jarrett of Robert Yates Racing and Jeff Burton of Roush Racing.
But Gordon was able to fend them off atop the win column as the California native won at Bristol, Martinsville, Charlotte and Pocono.
No matter where the Cup Series circuit went, Gordon enjoyed success even though Burton, Jarrett and Ricky Rudd scored wins of their own at New Hampshire, Pocono and Indianapolis. Mark Martin has also tamed Sonoma and Michigan, while Jarrett picked up a summer victory at Bristol. With a Southern 500 triumph at Darlington in September, Gordon was firmly in command. He was victorious once more at New Hampshire, as a tire problem at Phoenix and a lackluster performance in the Atlanta finale narrowed the winning margin over Jarrett to a mere 14 points. Jarrett finished second in the finale while Gordon collected the championship trophy following a 17th-place effort.
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Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, won 10 Cup Series races with eight coming on superspeedways and two on short tracks. He won his first Daytona 500 to open the schedule and followed it with a victory at Rockingham Speedway. Even though the season went well, Gordon’s championship hopes were nearly dashed when late-season problems threatened his second title. A dose of luck and perseverance are credited with saving his year.
Driving his own No. 10 Rudd Performance Motorsports Ford, Ricky Rudd held off Bobby Labonte, in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet, to win the fourth annual Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Rudd held a .183-second advantage at the end and became the race’s fourth different winner, joining Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett in visiting Victory Lane at the legendary track. Gordon led the majority of the 160-lap race.
Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet scored 10 wins with 23 top-10 finishes during the 32-race Cup Series season.
With second-generation star Dale Jarrett behind the wheel, the No. 88 Robert Yates Racing Ford made seven visits to Victory Lane.
1997 Season Recap
DATE | LOCATION | WINNER
Feb. 16 | Daytona International Speedway | Jeff Gordon
Feb. 23 | Rockingham Speedway | Jeff Gordon
March 2 | Richmond Raceway | Rusty Wallace
March 9 | Atlanta Motor Speedway | Dale Jarrett
March 23 | Darlington Raceway | Dale Jarrett
April 6 | Texas Motor Speedway | Jeff Burton
April 13 | Bristol Motor Speedway | Jeff Gordon
April 20 | Martinsville Speedway | Jeff Gordon
May 4 | Sonoma Raceway | Mark Martin
May 10 | Talladega Superspeedway | Mark Martin
May 25 | Charlotte Motor Speedway | Jeff Gordon
June 1 | Dover Motor Speedway | Ricky Rudd
June 8 | Pocono Raceway | Jeff Gordon
June 15 | Michigan Speedway | Ernie Irvan
June 22 | Auto Club Speedway | Jeff Gordon
July 5 | Daytona International Speedway | John Andretti
July 13 | New Hampshire Motor Speedway | Jeff Burton
July 20 | Pocono Raceway | Dale Jarrett
Aug. 2 | Indianapolis Motor Speedway | Ricky Rudd
Aug. 10 | Watkins Glen International | Jeff Gordon
Aug. 17 | Michigan International Speedway | Mark Martin
Aug. 23 | Bristol Motor Speedway | Dale Jarrett
Sept.1 | Darlington Raceway | Jeff Gordon
Sept. 6 | Richmond Raceway | Dale Jarrett
Sept. 14 | New Hampshire Motor Speedway | Jeff Gordon
Sept. 21 | Dover Motor Speedway | Mark Martin
Sept. 29 | Martinsville Speedway | Jeff Burton
Oct. 5 | Charlotte Motor Speedway | Dale Jarrett
Oct. 12 | Talladega Superspeedway | Terry Labonte
Oct. 27 | Rockingham Speedway | Bobby Labonte
Nov. 2 | Phoenix Raceway | Dale Jarrett
Nov. 16 | Atlanta Motor Speedway | Bobby Labonte