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'Shut Up and Drive': Jeff Gordon's former crew chief recalls a rare conflict with the four-time Cup winner

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One of NASCAR's golden ages must have been the last years of the 20th century. While Dale Sr. dubbed himself “The Intimidator” at races, Jeff Gordon gave new meaning to a trophy case. The Hendrick driver racked up an astonishing 47 Premier Series wins between 1995 and 1999. And as it turned out, 1998 was his best year.

Gordon went head to head with racing legend Richard Petty this season, winning 13 trophies. And his crew chief, Ray Evernham, was leading him. But even in this brilliant year, the team failed a few times. And with Jeff Gordon on a winner's high, he battled Evernham to a fault.

Jeff Gordon gave his crew chief silence

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The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team enjoyed a resurgence in the late 1990s. The combination of Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham seemed like a match made in heaven. They left lasting memories, with the exception of an incident at the 1998 Las Vegas race that still hurts Evernham.

Speaking to Kevin Harvick on his podcast, the NASCAR Hall of Famer addressed the topic. Evernham said his relationship with Gordon was usually warm and relaxed. “We had a little blast on the radio in Las Vegas. It was kind of funny because we couldn't stay mad. After the race he came in and looked at me like a child, like my little brother. And I would laugh, or he would laugh. So we just started laughing.”

But this year, Jeff Gordon was filled with a sense of accomplishment, responding to the smallest mistakes. While driving a Chevy Monte Carlo, Gordon fell victim to some aggressive Ford Taurus drivers. “And he’s screaming this, that, oh my God. I said, “Okay, then come in and we'll pit.” “We can't pit, you know, if we pit we'll drop a lap behind.” I said, “Well then, Shut up and drive it because I can’t run next to it and fix it.” And then he didn't say another word to me.”

Gordon later continued the argument with his crew chief, as Evernham explained: “And after that he said (contorts his face to be angry) and I just laughed at him. I was like, 'Bud, what are you going to do?' They kicked our asses, you know, like we were beaten. We didn't make it into the top ten today.'”

Even though the trip to Las Vegas was bitter between the two, they had a good relationship overall. Ray Evernham's first meeting with Jeff Gordon was iconic.

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Evernham had entered into a partnership with Gordon in briefcases

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Every iconic duo meets in equally iconic circumstances. When Jeff Gordon wasn't yet a full-time Cup driver, he was too young to rent his own car (how ironic), so his mother drove him to his first meeting with Ray Evernham. Both had one thing in common: they carried briefcases.

But while Evernham's case contained work-related material, Gordon's case contained things that upset his future crew chief. “In my briefcase were my notepads and books and my notes for Charlotte Motor Speedway and things like that. In Jeff's briefcase? He had a Nintendo Game Boy, some gum, a stock car magazine, and peanuts. It was kind of funny.”

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Gordon has come a long way since that time, serving as vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports and overseeing several wins.

Following the example of his predecessor Jeff Gordon, the far-sighted William Byron is aiming for the Cup Series title