1996 Tyson Holly Farms 400: North Wilkesboro Finale


In September 1996, Jeff Gordon won the final Cup Series race run at North Wilkesboro Speedway. (Photo: ISC Archives)


In the early autumn of 1996, one NASCAR era came to an end but another was just dawning.

On Sept. 29 of that year, Jeff Gordon merged two very distinct paths into a single destination with his victory in the Tyson Holly Farms 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

It was the final Cup Series race run on the famed North Carolina oval, which had been hosting NASCAR events since 1952.  And as for Gordon, he was in the early stages of an amazing run of success that would lead to four championships in a seven-year stretch and dozens of race wins.

One of those victories came on that late-September afternoon in the North Carolina mountains.  From his No. 2 starting spot, Gordon led a race-high 207 laps – including the final 79 trips around the five-eighths-mile oval.  His margin of victory over Dale Earnhardt was 1.73 seconds.

Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton and Terry Labonte completed the top five.  Johnny Benson was the highest-finishing rookie, in 17th place.  Pole sitter Ted Musgrave failed to lead a lap and placed 19th in the 37-car field.

The race included 18 lead changes among nine drivers.  There were just four cautions for 29 laps.

In defense of his championship from the previous season, Gordon won a series-high 10 races in 1996 - twice as many as anyone else.  But he finished second to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Labonte in the title race, falling 37 points short of NASCAR’s “Iron Man.”

Gordon would return to championship form the following season to claim three of the next five crowns, including back-to-back conquests in 1997 and ’98.  Today, he's third on NASCAR's all-time Cup Series win list with 89 victories - behind Hall of Famers Richard Petty and David Pearson - and leads the standings near the mid-point of the 2014 campaign.

Visit MRN.com on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. (ET) to hear the complete broadcast of the 1996 Tyson Holly Farms 400 from North Wilkesboro Speedway, anchored by Barney Hall and Allen Bestwick.  Motor Racing Network – "The Voice of NASCAR" – features a classic race each week on "Throwback Thursday" only at MRN.com.

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