Home » FEATURE STORY, NASCAR - Sprint Cup Series

Gordon Puts Brakes on Two Skids At Texas

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, April 6 2009

Jeff Gordon still not good at burnouts but is back to his winning ways. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Jeff Gordon still not good at burnouts but is back to his winning ways. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com 

Fort Worth, Texas – Win in Texas? Finally, Jeff Gordon got ‘er done.

Gordon ended a 12-year/16-race run of futility at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon with a textbook NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory in the Samsung 500. A four-time series champion and current points leader, Gordon also snapped a career-worst 47-race winless streak on a 1.5-mile quadoval that had confounded – and pounded – him since 1997.

“It feels like the first time I’ve ever won,” Gordon joked post-race. “I think if you’re in this sport long enough, whether you’ve had success or not, you’re going to go through ups and downs. We’ve had some of the best seasons in history in this sport, to some tough moments. When you have the high expectations this team has and you hear it…’When are you going to win?…When are you going to win?’… you feel like you’ve never won a race, ever.

“I believe this is the best place we possibly could have won because it’s eluded us for so long. It’s pretty cool.”

Gordon’s 82nd career victory was the first for himself and crew chief Steve Letarte since Oct. 13, 2007 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, a sister 1.5-mile layout to TMS. 

This win left Gordon one behind three-time champion Cale Yarborough, fifth on the all-time list. Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont/National Guard GED Chevrolet Impala SS, also led a 1-2 sweep for Hendrick Motorsports by finishing 0.379 seconds ahead of three-time and reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth – all former winners at “The Great American Speedway!” – rounded out the top five before an estimated crowd of 176,300.

The only track currently on the Sprint Cup schedule where Gordon has not won now is Homestead-Miami Speedway, another 1.5-miler and site of the season-ender in November.

“Congratulations to Jeff Gordon – he worked hard for this one,” said Johnson, who moved past Tony Stewart and into second place on Lap 310 of the scheduled 334 and began to reel-in his car owner/mentor.

“I don’t think about those aspects of it,” said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevy. “I see the No. 24 up front and I just you know, it’s Jeff Gordon to me. I don’t see a dry spell or a winless streak. I ran Jeff’s line, put the pressure on him. He didn’t make any mistakes. I could only get so close. I tried the top-side, nothing really panned out.  I went back down to the bottom and started making up a little bit of time again, hoping that that would put pressure on him and force him into a mistake.

“But he drove a perfect race.”

The race turned during what proved to be the day’s sixth and final caution period, triggered when David Stremme spun between Turns 3 and 4. At that point Carl Edwards – seeking an unprecedented third consecutive Cup victory at TMS – was in the lead, a position he had taken from Gordon on Lap 296. Edwards swept low and past Gordon into Turn 1 when Gordon got pinned behind the car of rookie Joey Logano, who was four laps down to the leaders.

The ensuing round of pit stops proved pivotal. Gordon, Stewart and Johnson exited pit road 1-2-3…while Edwards fell to 11th on a botched tire change. Edwards was able to gain only one spot in the run to the checkered flag.

“We missed the setup, so from the beginning we were struggling to get the balance,” said Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion fielded by Roush Fenway Racing. “And then Bob (Osborne, crew chief) got it balanced, we had that one good pit stop, passed Jeff for the lead. And I thought, ‘If we can have just one more, we’ll be all right.’ And then we went in leading and came out 11th and that’s what cost us the race. My guys are trying real hard, we’re all in this together, but we can do a better job than that and I’m sure we will.”

Edwards’ front tire changer had difficulty with both tires on the last stop. But Edwards held his infamous short fuse in-check.

“The way this works is that I don’t want anybody to tell me when I’ve done something wrong, they don’t need anybody to tell them,” Edwards said. “Those guys want to win this race just as bad as I do. They don’t yell at me when I hit the wall, so it’s not my position to be mad at them, we just have to do whatever we can to fix it. Hopefully, that’s good enough.”

The race featured 28 lead changes among 14 drivers – one short of the Cup track record set in 2000. Gordon led six times for a race-high 105 laps, a total that dwarfed Edwards’ nine-lap stint at the point.

“I really think that whoever was sitting here (as the winner), if they didn’t get out front on that last pit stop, they weren’t going to win,” Gordon said. “Jimmie was making great runs and had an incredible pit stop; he was the fastest car at the end. Track position is so crucial. As good as my car was out front, it wasn’t very good behind cars. And I saw that happen for a lot of guys, not just us.”

Johnson’s fifth top-10 finish in seven races moved him past Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch into second place in the points chase, a sizeable 162 markers behind Gordon. Busch is 180 points out – nearly one full-race.

“The cool thing about those last 28 laps, there was nothing left out there,” Johnson said. “My foot, it feels like I was at a go-kart track. Push on the gas pedal so hard, your foot is asleep. My foot is still tingling from pushing the pedal so hard. It was fun to drive that hard. Glad Jeff got his win.”

Biffle’s run also was sabotagued in the pits, where lug nuts fell off rims on two stops, costing the Roush Fenway ace time and track position.

“It’s our fault that we didn’t have it glued properly,” said Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford. “You know it’s hard to point the finger. I stopped on the air hose at California, and we had some lug nuts fall off today. So…just go on.”

Biffle was asked if he ever bought into the rumor suggesting that Gordon, at age 37 and now a family man, was settling into his glory days.

“I thought he was past his prime,” Biffle said, tongue-in-cheek. “No, I’m just kidding. No, there was never a doubt in my mind whether Jeff Gordon would win races again. You know, I mean, the guy’s a phenomenal driver. He knows what he needs his car to feel like. There’s about 10 of us that do.”

Gordon’s winning average speed was 146.372 mph in a race that took 3 hours, 25 minutes and 22 seconds. That time frame was a blip on the radar screen of Gordon’s travails at TMS, including 43rd-place finishes in 1999 and as recently as last spring.

Asked if he needed directions to Victory Lane, Gordon said he certainly did.

“It was the coolest!” said Gordon, who donned the traditional Stetson and fired off a pair of pistols provided by TMS president Eddie Gossage. “I’m telling you, it’s like winning for the very first time. That’s the first time I’ve ever carried a checkered flag around a racetrack in NASCAR. I can’t do a back flip (a la Edwards), so I’m not going to do that. I did a heckuva good burnout, I thought. I did it so good I blew the rear tires off the car, at least one of them, on the back straightaway. I didn’t want those fans back there to miss out on the burnout. And proudly carried that checkered flag.

“The good thing about these days, you don’t have to worry about finding Victory Lane. They’ll point you to it. You come down pit road, you’ll find your way there eventually. And we did.”  

        —

Unofficial final results for Sunday’s Samsung 500 Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway:

  1. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevorlet
  2. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet
  3. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford
  4. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet
  5. Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford
  6. Mark Martin, No. 5 Chevrolet
  7. Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Chevrolet
  8. Kurt Busch, No. 2 Dodge
  9. Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet
  10. Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford
  11. David Reutimann, No. 00 Toyota
  12. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota
  13. Paul Menard, No. 98 Ford
  14. David Stremme, No. 12 Dodge
  15. Ryan Newman, No. 39 Chevrolet
  16. Brian Vickers, No. 83 Toyota
  17. Sam Hornish Jr., No. 77 Dodge
  18. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota
  19. Kasey Kahne, No. 9 Dodge
  20. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet
  21. Casey Mears, No. 07 Chevrolet
  22. Clint Bowyer, No. 33 Chevrolet
  23. Brad Keselowski, No. 25 Chevrolet
  24. Michael Waltrip, No. 55 Toyota
  25. Martin Truex Jr., No. 1 Chevrolet
  26. John Andretti, No. 34 Chevrolet
  27. Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet
  28. Bill Elliott, No. 21 Ford
  29. David Gilliland, No. 171 Chevrolet
  30. Joey Logano, No. 20 Toyota
  31. Regan Smith, No. 78 Chevrolet
  32. Elliott Sadler, No. 19 Dodge
  33. Aric Almirola, No. 8 Chevrolet
  34. A.J. Allmendinger, No. 44 Dodge
  35. Max Papis, No. 113 Toyota
  36. Reed Sorenson, No. 43 Dodge
  37. David Ragan, No. 6 Ford
  38. Jamie McMurray, No. 26 Ford
  39. Robby Gordon, No. 7 Toyota
  40. Bobby Labonte, No. 96 Ford
  41. Marcos Ambrose, No. 47 Toyota
  42. Mike Bliss, No. 09 Dodge
  43. Dave Blaney, No. 66 Toyota

 

 

 

 

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, April 6 2009
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Dusty says:

    Good to see you doing what you do best, Sturb. There’s few writers I’ll drop everything else to read, and you’re one of ‘em. Great story, great job of capturing the weekend.

    Dusty

  • lisa jordan kilborn says:

    it’s great to see john sturbin back in the game. motorsports readers haven’t had the great coverage of their exciting, deep sport since his departure from the fort worth star-telegram last year. the paper’s loss is “racintoday”’s gain — and readers are gonna love being able to hop on this web site for his and his peers’ insightful coverage of all the big races. go sturbin, go…but be careful on those left turns…lisak