"In my first Cup start, I was completely unaware of what I was getting into," Gordon said. "I had a great race car, but I did everything I possibly could do to ruin that opportunity."
In 749 career starts, Gordon has scored 91 victories, which is third on the Cup Series' all-time race winners list, and 76 poles, also third on the all- time list. He is a four-time champion in the series, winning his titles in 1995, '97 and '98 and 2001.
This is Gordon's 23rd year in the series, and all of them have been as driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. The 43-year-old Gordon is the current points leader. He has three wins this season, including victories in two of the last five races (Indianapolis and Michigan).
With two races to go before the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins, Gordon is one of 12 drivers who has clinched a spot in the 16-driver playoff field. His points lead and three victories during the regular season have him presently atop the Chase grid. Pending his attempt to qualify for Atlanta and Richmond, which is next weekend, Gordon will be in the Chase for the 10th time. He failed to qualify for the playoffs only once -- 2005.
At Atlanta, Gordon has recorded five wins, 16 top-five finishes, 26 top-10s and two poles in 40 Cup Series starts. His most recent victory here occurred in September 2011. Gordon has led a total of 1,297 laps at this track, which is the most among active drivers, and he has an average starting position of 12.1 and an average finishing position of 11.8.
"There have been a lot of significant moments that have occurred during my career at Atlanta," he said. "My first Nationwide win, my first Cup start, the 85th win, winning some championships there and this upcoming start."
With this being the first year of NASCAR's knockout-style qualifying format, Gordon has qualified very well in the last several races. He started on the pole at Watkins Glen and Michigan and on the outside pole at Bristol. Gordon has qualified fifth in each of the previous three races at Atlanta.
"What stands out the most to me about Atlanta is that it's going to be really fast for qualifying, but then you're going to slip and slide during the race," Gordon said. "You have to manage wheel spin, and you have to manage tire wear.
"The team has to have a setup that is quick but doesn't abuse the tires, and the driver has to drive it hard but not overdrive it. And you're going to be searching all over the track for the groove that works best for you and your car. It's just a fun, challenging track."
Forty-four teams are on the entry list for Sunday's Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta. Ty Dillon, a rookie in the Nationwide Series this season, is scheduled to make his Sprint Cup debut here, driving the No. 33 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing/Circle Sport.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, Aug. 31. Race: Oral-B USA 500. Site: Atlanta Motor Speedway. Track: 1.54-mile oval. Start time: 7:30 p.m. ET. Laps: 325. Miles: 500.5. 2013 Winner: Kyle Busch. Television: ESPN. Radio: Performance Racing Network (PRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.