Opinion: NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Gordon blazed an unmatched trail

NASCAR will celebrate its glory days when Jeff Gordon, one of the most popular and successful drivers in auto racing history, is inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday night.

Gordon will be enshrined in Charlotte along with current team owners Jack Roush and Roger Penske and late drivers Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison.

A singular figure, Gordon reached beyond the normal realms of popular and successful. He lifted NASCAR to its zenith as a transcendent force that saw the once regional and niche sport transition into a mainstream juggernaut. 

Gordon would have been a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame lock based on his driving credentials alone. He won four NASCAR Cup Series championships from 1995-2001. His 93 wins in NASCAR's premier series rank third all time, his 477 top-10 finishes rank second and his 325 top-fives rank third. He never missed a race as a full-time driver between 1993 and 2015, becoming NASCAR's ultimate iron man with 797 consecutive starts.

But Gordon's legacy extends well beyond the stats. 

The West Coast kid who moved to the Midwest to pursue his racing dreams became a sensation, taking the stock car world by storm with his combination of raw talent and GQ looks. Joining a series that had been dominated by legendary drivers like Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson and Darrell Waltrip, Gordon had a California cool that was an immediate contrast to their Southern grit. 

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