It's hard to fathom that it was 20 years ago this month when Jeff Gordon won his first race at the highest rung of NASCAR. The breakthrough victory came in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and was decided on a bold two-tire call by crew chief Ray Evernham on Gordon's final pit stop of the night.
A baby-faced 22-year-old in his second season, Charlotte represented the beginning of a dynasty that would see Gordon win 58 races and four championships in an eight-year span.
During the '90s, Gordon won with such frequency and was so superior it seemed as if he would never stop winning. At the time, Gordon was despised as much for his excellence, as he was for the fact that he overtook Dale Earnhardt as NASCAR's dominant force.
Eventually though the trips to Victory Lane became far fewer, and in some years didn't occur at all.
Now a much-beloved fan favorite, Gordon, 42, is in the twilight of a Hall of Fame career. And the question most asked now of the four-time champion is when he plans on stepping away; a question for which he doesn't have the answer.
"The same criteria have always been there -- healthy, competitive and just enjoying what I'm doing," Gordon told reporters Wednesday. "Right now, I'm enjoying it as much as I ever have, so I'm not really thinking about what the next step is."
A few years ago suffering from a nagging back injury, Gordon thought his career was winding down. But healthy, re-energized, and competitive he's uncertain about when he will stop driving.
Within the past few months alone, he has openly spoke of vacating the seat of his No. 24 Chevrolet at the end of this year if he were to win a fifth championship. Yet, Gordon has also stated that he could see himself driving for another decade if he can remain competitive.
"Don't get me wrong, over the last five or six years I've thought a lot about it," he said. "It at least has come into my mind where I can think and plan a little bit for that day when it comes. But I'm not sitting there picking a day where I can say, 'This is it' -- whether it's this year, next year, the year after that.
"It does seem every time I do think I'm getting closer (to retirement) something happens and it gets pushed out further."
Although he's not the driver he once was, there is no doubting Gordon's competitiveness. Through 10 races this season he has accumulated more points and has a better average finish than anyone else.
But what Gordon doesn't have in 2014 is a victory. An all too common occurrence in recent seasons for the driver whose 88 career victories has him third on the all-time list.
In the last six years Gordon has won a total of seven races. More telling, he hasn't been a factor at all in the championship with a best points finish of sixth since 2010, and he has had to scramble in order to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup each of the last two seasons.
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So while Gordon may be competitive it certainly isn't to level he's accustomed to, nor at a level that makes another championship seem attainable.
"I know that time is running short," Gordon said. "I can't say I'm sitting here concerned about it. I've had an amazing career. I've accomplished more than I ever thought that I would."
That's not to say, however, Gordon can't defy conventional wisdom and win a championship 13 years after his last title.
As evident by his ranking in the standings, no driver has been more consistent than Gordon, who several times this season has been close to winning with near misses at Fontana, Texas and Richmond. However, under a format where winning is so critical, those near misses sting.
"I don't look too far ahead; I worry about the things that I can control," Gordon said. Right now the things I can control is that racecar on the weekends, working as hard as I can with the team to get the best results. Not really thinking of anything else other than maybe the urgency of how important it is to win this season if you're going to win the championship."
Though he's in his later years, it wouldn't be unprecedented to see Gordon again achieve the pinnacle in NASCAR, as Richard Petty (42), Bobby Allison (45), Earnhardt (43) and Dale Jarrett (42) all were the same age as Gordon or older when they won championships.
But the clock on Gordon's remarkable career is ticking ever loudly, and if there is a race a driver can't win it's the one against Father Time.