Gordon ends drought at unlikeliest track
Posted: Monday, April 6, 2009 5:52 pm
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — That Texas-sized drought ended for Jeff Gordon in the most unexpected place.
After 47 races without a NASCAR Sprint Cup victory, the longest winless span in the four-time champion’s career, Gordon finally found Victory Lane at one of the two active tracks where he had never won.
“This is probably the best place we possibly could have won, because it’s eluded us for so long,” Gordon said. “To break the streak not only here at Texas, but over the last 40-whatever races, it’s pretty cool. … I’m telling you, at Texas, I’m just lost.”
Until Sunday, when he held off Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson in the Samsung 500 on the 11⁄2-mile, high-banked track.
Not only was it Gordon’s first victory in the Lone Star State, it was the first time he had won anywhere in the No. 24 Chevrolet since October 2007 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte.
“I thought he was past his prime,” third-place finisher Greg Biffle said with a smile. “I’m just kidding. No, there was never a doubt in my mind whether Jeff Gordon would win races again. The guy’s a phenomenal driver.”
Still, it took Gordon 17 tries to finally win at Texas, site of the only two last-place finishes in his 552 career starts. And one of those was last spring.
“This is a huge relief, but also very exciting,” Gordon said. “If we can win at Texas, I feel like we can win anywhere.”
The only remaining track Gordon hasn’t won at is Homestead.
He will have to wait until the season finale in November for a chance to change that.
Carl Edwards, going for his third straight Texas victory, was leading and Gordon was in third when the final caution came out because David Stremme spun coming out of the third turn with 30 laps to go in the 334-lap race.
But Edwards’ crew had problems changing tires and he dropped 10 spots to 11th coming off pit row. Gordon had a flawless stop, restarted first and stayed there the rest of the race.
“They don’t yell at me when I hit the wall so it is not my position to be mad at them,” Edwards said. “We just have to do whatever we can to fix it.”
Gordon held on by 0.542 seconds over Johnson, who took two of his Sprint Cup season championships while Gordon, the owner of Johnson’s No. 48 car, couldn’t even win a race.
It was Gordon’s 82nd career victory, one behind Cale Yarborough for fifth on the all-time list.
Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip are tied for third on that list with 84 victories.
When Dale Earnhardt Jr. took only right-side tires, he went from 12th to first on a restart with 76 laps to go.
But Earnhardt quickly lost that lead when Kyle Busch, trying to regain a lost lap, got loose and pushed him to the top of the track.
Gordon charged ahead and was still holding the lead with 39 laps left when he got caught in traffic and Edwards slid under him into first. Tony Stewart got past Gordon a few laps later. That was still the running order when Stremme spun out to set up the race-deciding pit stop.
Johnson needed only a few laps after the final restart to overtake Stewart for second, but never caught up with Gordon, who led six times for 105 laps in a race that featured 28 lead changes — nine more than any Cup race this year and one short of the Texas record.
“I ran Jeff’s line, put pressure on him,” said Johnson, who moved to second in season points, 162 behind Gordon. “He didn’t make any mistakes. I could only get so close.”
Stewart finished fourth, ahead of Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin, who marked the 28th anniversary of his first Cup race. Juan Pablo Montoya, Kurt Busch, Jeff Burton and Edwards rounded out the top 10. Polesitter David Reutimann finished 11th in the No. 00 Toyota owned by Michael Waltrip.
Gordon hadn’t forgotten how to celebrate, though he picked up a new trick watching other drivers do so over the past 18 months. After the obligatory frontstretch burnout, he stopped at the start-finish line for the checkered flag to take on the victory lap.
“It was the coolest. It was like winning for the very first time,” Gordon said. “Things have changed since I won a race … That’s the first time I’ve ever carried a checkered flag in NASCAR. I used to do that in quarter-midgets when I was 8.”
During interviews in Victory Lane, Gordon had to sneak a peek at the logos on his car to remind himself of everybody he needed to thank. It had been a long time.
Car owner Rick Hendrick wasn’t there, so Gordon tried to talk to him by cell phone. Also missing were his wife and daughter.
“I’m just thrilled. I can’t wait to get home to Ingrid and Ella,” Gordon said. “I know (Ella) was saying ’Go poppy go’ all day long.”