NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
 
               === Gordon ready for 700th start at Darlington ===
 
 Darlington,  SC  (Sports Network) -  Jeff Gordon  is expected to reach another
 milestone  in his already illustrious NASCAR career this weekend at Darlington
 Raceway.
 
 Gordon, at age 41, will make his 700th career start -- all consecutively -- in
 the  Sprint Cup Series. He will become the 15th driver in NASCAR's top circuit
 to compete in 700 or more races.
 
 "I've  been fortunate to race this long and have the type of career I've had,"
 Gordon  said. "It's  really cool to see  that this will be my 700th start, but
 it's  not something I  really paid attention to. It's hard to believe I've run
 that many - especially consecutively."
 
 Since  his Cup debut  on Nov. 15, 1992 at Atlanta, Gordon has evolved from the
 "Wonder Boy," a nickname given to him by Dale Earnhardt in 1995, to one of the
 most  accomplished drivers in the sport. The four-time Sprint Cup champion has
 scored 87 wins, including three Daytona 500 victories, 299 top-5 finishes, 416
 top-10s  and 72  poles  in 699  career  starts. He  also  has a  NASCAR-record
 $131,087,923 in career winnings to date.
 
 Darlington  has been one of Gordon's best racetracks over the years. His seven
 victories here is tops among all active drivers. David Pearson holds the track
 record with 10 wins, followed by Earnhardt with nine.
 
 Gordon  has  recorded 18 top-five  finishes, 21 top-10s  and three poles in 32
 starts  at Darlington as  well. His total of 1,720 laps led around this 1.366-
 mile "egg-shaped" oval is best among active drivers.
 
 "I  always look forward to going to Darlington," he said. "It's a great track.
 It's  fast and  exciting. It's not the same  track it used to be 10 years ago,
 but  it's still  one of those tracks  where you have to push hard, be patient.
 We've run good there the last couple of times, so I'm looking forward to it."
 
 Six  of Gordon's  seven victories at Darlington have come in the Southern 500.
 He  won this  race consecutively from 1995-98 and then took the checkered flag
 for the 2002 and '07 events. Gordon won the 400-mile spring race here in 1996.
 He finished 35th in last year's 500-miler at Darlington.
 
 Right  now,  Gordon is 14th  in the  point standings. His Hendrick Motorsports
 teammate,  Jimmie  Johnson, holds  a sizeable  41-point lead over second-place
 Carl Edwards.
 
 Johnson  is the  defending race winner at Darlington. When the series competed
 here  one  year ago, he  gave team  owner Rick Hendrick  his 200th win in Cup.
 Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports also ended a 16-race winless streak.
 
 "I  know we were all trying very hard to get that 200th win for Rick," Johnson
 said.  "All  of our teams  were close  multiple times. Martinsville would have
 been  extremely fitting, obviously, but Darlington has a great feel to it too.
 And,  to understand  some of Rick's early  memories and the first race he ever
 went to watch being there at Darlington, it ties it all in.
 
 "The history that track has in our sport, and that of Hendrick Motorsports and
 the history of NASCAR, it fits very well. It's a tough, tough racetrack to get
 around. I'm proud of every win I have there, and especially that 200th win."
 
 Gordon  delivered  HMS its 50th  victory in March  1996 at Darlington. He also
 gave  the  racing organization its 100th  win in June 2001 at Michigan. Gordon
 shares ownership of Johnson's No. 48 team with Hendrick.
 
 "Jeff  is an icon of our sport," Johnson said. "When I was young, I bought his
 diecast  car. It  sat on a shelf in  my room. I didn't know him. I watched him
 through  the Thursday night  thunder racing. He gave me hope as a young driver
 with  a different background that I could end up in a stock car. I watched him
 through  all  of his amazing seasons.  Then I met him  and got to know him. He
 brought me on board, racing against him for wins and championships.
 
 "It's  been a wild  situation for me, because literally, I was a fan, and then
 to  be able to  race against him and all of that, it was kind of mind-blowing.
 It's been a very cool experience."
 
 Forty-four  teams  are on  the  preliminary  entry  list for  the  Bojangles's
 Southern 500.
 
 Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Saturday, May 11. Race: Bojangles' Southern
 500. Site: Darlington Raceway. Track: 1.366-mile oval. Start time: 6:45 p.m.
 ET. Laps: 367. Miles: 501.3. 2012 Winner: Jimmie Johnson. Television: FOX.
 Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.
 
 
 05/09 15:07:27 ET

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