February 27, 2011
Gordon ends drought with Phoenix win
By DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency
AVONDALE, Ariz. — It has been 662 days and 66 NASCAR Sprint Cup races since Jeff Gordon last visited victory lane in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
But the four-time champion won the battle of wounded warriors at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Subway Fresh Fit 500 on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway to end the skid.
Gordon outraced Kyle Busch — who had already won a pair of races on the weekend — over the final laps to deny the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team a sweep at Phoenix.
Before that Gordon had watched as, one-by-one, contenders fell to the wayside as a result of a rash of early crashes that littered PIR’s one-mile short oval.
Gone from contention before the race was even one-third over was pole-sitter Carl Edwards in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Ford, Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford and Jamie McMurray, last season’s Brickyard 400 winner in the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
And after many of the damaged chassis returned to the track following makeshift repairs, they looked more like losers of a barroom brawl than slick, shiny Sprint Cup race cars.
Not even Gordon could manage to avoid the mass of mangled metal.
He got tapped by Edwards just 59 laps into the 312-lap race and hit the wall, flattening the left side of his car, but it was not enough to blunt Gordon’s drive to the front.
The win — Gordon’s 83rd of his career — lifted a weight off the shoulders of the 39-year-old California native.
“Welcome back, baby. Welcome back,” crew chief Alan Gustafson told Gordon over the team radio as crossed the finish line.
Gordon said that he thought his race was over when he made contact with Edwards.
“I hit the wall a ton,” he said. “I thought we were done. But Alan made great calls on pit road and we just kept coming back.”
And about the win?
“It’s been a long time,” Gordon said. “There are times when you think (another win) is never going to happen.”
Gordon said his car on Sunday was as good a race car as he has had in several seasons.
“As soon as they dropped the green flag I knew we had something special,” he said. “In those final laps racing Kyle it was great having a car that can make that pass and pull away the way we did.
“I had all kinds of emotions, mostly joy, very little relief. I just was so cool.”
Busch tipped his hat to Gordon, admitting the No. 24 driver was his hero as a kid.
“Wow, it was fun racing Jeff Gordon,” Busch said. “I mean, he was my racing hero. At the end, Jeff just had a better car than us.
“He just ran me down and flat-out passed me. He was really, really fast.”
As for last week’s 20-year-old hero winner of the Daytona 500, Bayne’s day ended prematurely when he lost control of his No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford and slammed it backwards into the wall on Lap 50.
“I don’t know what happened. We were battling ... and I don’t know, but something happened,” he said of the wreck. “That’s tough coming off of our high at Daytona to come to this, but we’ll be back at Vegas.”
Edwards, meanwhile, had high hopes of increasing his points lead in PIR and wasn’t too happy with his run-in with Busch.
“I thought at first he was just frustrated and he turned left to get back in line and he didn’t know I was there, but I watched the tape and I think he really did get loose,” Edwards said. “He hit me hard and I was left with nothing.”
Gordon’s teammate Jimmie Johnson finished third in he No. 48 Chevrolet with Kevin Harvick in the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and Ryan Newman, in the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing rounding out the top five.