LOUDON, N.H. — Jeff Gordon had a knack for pinpointing the unprotected wall when the No. 24 crashed.
His car was shot.
Gordon rarely was.
Sure, he bruised his ribs in 1999 at Texas Motor Speedway. He had a minor headache when the car lost its brakes, sliced through the grass and slammed into the wall in 2006 at Pocono Raceway. His 2008 wreck at Las Vegas tore the radiator out of the car and left it a mangled mess.
Gordon always walked away. And he always slid into the seat for the next race. Year after year.
Without much fuss, the four-time champion will make his 789th consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup start today at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, passing Ricky Rudd for the record. Rudd, who once used duct tape to keep his swollen eyes open so he could drive, passed Terry Labonte's streak of 655 in 2002.
"I remember when Ricky Rudd did that and Terry Labonte and other guys that had these incredible records and streaks. I thought, 'Man they are old. I will never be around long enough to set that record or achieve that,' " Gordon said. "Now here I am. Yeah, I'm old, too, but now I appreciate what those guys did and the effort they put into it and the commitment."
Gordon, 44, married with two young children, will retire this season and shift into the Fox broadcast booth. In addition to his title, he has 92 wins in a career entirely spent in the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports and leaves a legacy as the face of the sport as it swept into popularity a generation ago.
But before the TV gigs, the charity work and the "Four Time" nickname, there was race No. 1.
Gordon's streak began with his Cup debut on Nov. 15, 1992, at Atlanta Motor Speedway. That race was won by Hall of Famer Bill Elliott — whose son Chase will replace Gordon next season at Hendrick Motorsports.
And the streak began before 36 races per season was the norm. When Gordon joined the series it was a 30-race season.
Rudd, who had 23 wins and never won a title, methodically built his streak in the 1980s with as few as 28 races in a season.
"When I retired, I didn't think anybody would be stupid enough to hang around that long to beat that record," Rudd said. "No disrespect to Jeff. He's still running good, he's still winning races."
Should Gordon finish the season, he'll have 797 straight starts.
Who can catch him?
Matt Kenseth is second with 565, but at 43 he seems unlikely to race a full schedule until he's 50, when he could pass Gordon.
And injuries have at times sidelined many of NASCAR's biggest stars, including Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Gordon's durability has been as remarkable as anything else. He has had a balky back for the latter part of his career and it nearly ended the streak last season at the Coca-Cola 600.
Gordon started and gutted out all 400 laps, despite needing injections.
"How he ran that Charlotte race, I don't know," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "And how he ran for weeks after that, getting therapy before and after the race, and the pain he had, and to still run as good as he ran, I mean, he is the man. He is super tough."