DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) – Jeff Gordon can make history this weekend at Darlington Raceway.

A victory in the re-christened Southern 500 this Saturday night would be Gordon’s 83rd career win, matching NASCAR great Cale Yarborough for fifth all-time list. It would also be Gordon’s record-setting sixth Southern 500, surpassing Yarborough’s mark on his home track that’s celebrating its 60th season of racing this week.

“It’s cool to be mentioned in the same sentence as guys like Cale,” Gordon said. “It’s something I’ll look back on at the end of my career. But we arrive at the race track each weekend focused on trying to win, not catching or passing people on list. Our real motivation is winning the championship, and we hope we can win races as we work toward that goal.”

Gordon certainly knows about winning at Darlington. He took the checkered flag six times in 15 races at “The Lady In Black” between 1995 and 2002, a stretch that encompassed his four Sprint Cup titles.

The track’s vastly different from when Gordon first rode it as a rising rookie in 1993. The start-finish line was switched in the mid-1990s and the track’s tire-chewing surface has been repaved twice, the latest before last spring’s race when Gordon and others at a Goodyear Tire test session flirted with speeds of 200 mph – unheard of at a narrow track where any pass usually puts a drivers’ heart in his throat.

Lights were installed in 2004. And when the track had its two races cut to one on Mother’s Day weekend for the 2005 season and dropped its Southern 500 name, things didn’t look great for NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway.

Four sellouts later, Darlington’s still going strong, as is the 37-year-old Gordon, NASCAR’s points leader entering this week.

Darlington’s champions are a “who’s who” of NASCAR greats, another mountaintop Gordon could ascend with a victory.

He’s currently third all-time in track wins behind David Person (10) and the late Dale Earnhardt (9).

“It’s such a tough racetrack,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who’s yet to break through at Darlington in 14 tries. “When you’ve won there, you’re considered one of the tougher guys in the sport because you can conquer this race and conquer what this track throws at you.”

Don’t expect any fence-flying wrecks this weekend. There’s only one fast lane around the track, so the jostling and side-by-side racing seen at other speedways doesn’t work at Darlington.

“You have to be very patient and you have to work your lapped traffic,” said Gordon’s crew chief, Steve Letarte. “I think we have the best in the business for that.”

That’s how Gordon picked up his last Darlington victory in 2007, Letarte urging him to stay out during a caution 23 laps from the end that kept him in front despite an overheating engine.

You’re born with that sense of the moment – and that’s essential to succeed at Darlington, Yarborough says.

Yarborough grew up in South Carolina’s PeeDee region nearby Darlington and remembers his slow learning curve when he first showed up to race what he called a “community car” in 1957. One of his best-known moments came in 1965 when, after bumping with Sam McQuagg, Yarborough went airborne and flipped Darlington’s fence.

It was three years later before Yarborough would win the Southern 500, continuing a Hall-of-Fame NASCAR career.

Yarborough, 70, has already surrendered distinctions as the only driver with three straight NASCAR championships (Jimmie Johnson matched that last fall) and the only driver to win a Sprint Cup race on his birthday (Kyle Busch did it last week at Richmond).

He has joked with Gordon that he should have to win six Southern 500s to tie the record here because Yarborough’s first Darlington win came on the track’s rougher surface before repavings and improvements.

“It was twice as hard to win,” Yarborough says with pride.

Gordon’s chance comes Saturday night. He’s enjoyed hearing Yarborough and others recall how things used to be. There’s a lot, though, Gordon says, at Darlington that’s very much the same.

“I don’t believe the driver’s thinking has changed one bit,” he said. “You race the track here, not the other competitors.”

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