SONOMA, CA - JUNE 19: Jeff Gordon drives the #24 Dupont Chevrolet during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway on June 19, 2010 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Gordon fought the flu, dehydration and undone seatbelts to achieve one of his most memorable victories.
Jeff Gordon sat in his car, baking in the California heat under the red flag as track workers cleaned up an accident during the 1999 NASCAR Cup race at Sonoma.
To put conservatively, Gordon was miserable. He was fighting the flu and was completely exhausted, with no end to the red flag in sight.
"It's the hottest I can ever remember being in the car," Gordon said recently, recalling that day. "Just being in the car, just not sure how I was going to make it to the end of the race, just from dehydration."
Gordon wanted to get out of the car – badly. But his No. 24 was so good that day, he knew he'd be costing his team a shot at the victory if he pitted for a relief driver.
"I did not want to allow the way I was feeling and the things I was being challenged with to prevent us from winning a race that we should be winning," Gordon said. "Luckily, we did."
That 1999 Sonoma race still stands as one of the most memorable times in Gordon's career because of the way he overcame the odds to not only finish the race, but win it. Today, it stands as one of five Sonoma victories for Gordon – a NASCAR record.
The heat and flu weren't the only things that went against Gordon that day, either.
Gordon started from the pole and was building a lead over Mark Martin when, 10 laps into the race, his seatbelts suddenly came undone.
The driver started losing time, and while he could stay in the seat, he "just wasn't secure enough," he said.
While he was trying to manage the twists and turns of a high-speed road course without seatbelts, Gordon lost his concentration and ran off the course.
Martin took over the lead for four laps, but Gordon rallied back.
With the heat and his sickness, though, Gordon struggled toward the end of the race. He led the final 34 laps, but there was a 20-minute red flag to clean up a crash between Ricky Rudd and Jeff Burton.
Gordon, already feeling faint, struggled through that period wondering whether he was really going to make it to the finish.
"I was wanting them to bring fluids to me, and I would have loved to have gotten out of the car," he said. "The heat just radiates up through the exhaust, and then you've got the oil tank behind you. It comes up into the cockpit."
Add in an already hot day, a demanding road course and a sick driver, and Gordon's durability was being severely tested.
In the end, it was worth it.
"I feel like I paid a big price, because we got to Victory Lane and it was everything I could do just to celebrate the win," he said. "But it was a tough race, and it's cool we won it."