NEXTEL UAW-Ford 500Final
Gordon wins again at Talladega with last-lap passOct 8, 2007 - 12:47 AM By Bruce Martin PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor
TALLADEGA, Alabama (Ticker) - Just call Jeff Gordon "The Master" at Talladega.
In the past, the four-time Cup champion realized his best path to victory was from the front of the field. But Sunday's NASCAR Nextel Cup UAW-Ford 500 was the first restrictor-plate race with the Car of Tomorrow.
So with an unknown commodity on a track this size, Gordon discovered the best way to the front was to stay in the back for the first three-quarters of the contest.
"Based on where we qualified that answered our plan for today," said Gordon, who started 34th. "Based on that plan, I believed in it. But I told (team owner) Rick Hendrick we need to race and let the chips fall where they may. I changed that after talking to the guys.
"I don't like going out there riding in the back. I like to be battling for the lead and leading laps. I knew we could get up there, I just didn't know how far up there we could get. It was a great run with nine to go to work with our teammates there."
Gordon, who was a non-factor for most of race, played it perfectly at the end to score his 80th career victory and his sixth at Talladega Superspeedway. In the process, he became NASCAR's all-time restrictor-plate winner with 12 victories on tracks that require the device on the carburetor (Daytona and Talladega). That's one more than the last Dale Earnhardt's 11.
"I thought Earnhardt had so many it was ridiculous," Gordon said. "To me he was 'The Man' on the restrictor plates. I'm blown away we won this race today.
"The package that we had here earlier in the season, I would have said if we had that package coming back we could win quite a few races. I could use the mirror and see the air just like Earnhardt could do. I'm pretty blown away we've been able to win that many restrictor plate races."
After being penalized for running over an air-hose that drug an air-wrench out of his pit area on lap 139, Gordon pulled off the race-winning pass when he blew by his teammate, Jimmie Johnson in the third turn on the final lap two sweep both Nextel Cup races at Talladega in 2007. It was his fourth Cup win at the 2.66-mile superspeedway since 2004.
The final lap was the only time Gordon led and it was valuable because it also gave him the lead in the "Chase for the Nextel Cup" by nine points over Johnson.
After starting 34th, Gordon hung out in the middle of the field until there were less than 20 laps to go. Then, he teamed up with fellow Hendrick drivers Johnson and Casey Mears to get back to the front.
"Man, I'm excited," Gordon said. "That was an awesome win. I have no idea how I got to the front. We laid in the back and didn't want to have to do it that way. This car (Car of Tomorrow) has a lot of unknowns and we wanted to play it safe.
"I don't know how I got by my teammate. I got a push from the 22 (Dave Blaney). Jimmie tried to block me but I got a good push from behind by the 20 (Tony Stewart) and he's the one that got me this victory. I really thought Jimmie Johnson was going to win that race."
Gordon's Chevrolet Impala finish 0.066-seconds ahead of Johnson's Chevrolet which gave the mostly pro-Dale Earnhardt Jr. Talladega crowd estimated at 150,000 a chance to boo him.
But unlike past Gordon Talladega victories where hundreds of beer cans were tossed at his car after the race, there was only one Budweiser can tossed at Gordon's Chevrolet when it was burning rubber afterwards on the tri-oval asphalt.
"I have to admit I'm a little disappointed in that," Gordon said. "They might be throwing Mountain Dew cans next year (referring to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s new sponsor in 2008). I love coming here when you can battle with 10 to go and it's wild and crazy like that.
"I think the fans here get to see an awesome show. I have such a fan base of support that I'm OK with them throwing things or booing as long as it's after we've won a race and we're doing a burnout."
Gordon called it the "hardest three-quarters of a race" he has ever run at Talladega.
"It was terrible," Gordon said. "It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in a race car. I like to think I have patience but that was beyond patience. There was nothing fun about that but I knew it was the smart thing. I knew if we never lost the draft we could work our way back up there. I knew we could do it; it was a matter when we got up there if we could do anything with them.
"I never yawned in a race car in my life. But I yawned back there. I knew the race would be spectacular at the end but that wasn't the kind of race we wanted to see with 10 to go or 20 to go. It was the box we were in with this car."
Gordon certainly wasn't yawning with the thrilling finish at the end when he made a key move on teammate Johnson and then got in front of Stewart, getting a big push from that driver that paid off with the victory.
"The 20 (Stewart) had a big run, Jeff got up in front of it and I couldn't slow him down," Johnson said. "The big picture racing today was really smart. We almost won it."
Blaney was third in a Toyota Camry followed by Denny Hamlin's Chevrolet and Ryan Newman's Dodge Avenger.
Gordon's victory was worth $246,036 in a race that featured 42 lead changes among 22 drivers. Hamlin led the most, five times for 40 laps and Gordon led the least, the last two turns and the frontstretch to take the checkered flag.
He won the race averaging 143.438 miles per hour.
There were nine caution periods for 34 laps but only one "big one" an 11-car pileup in the fourth turn on lap 146 that included Chase drivers Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth.
Because of that, the "Chase for the Championship" is turning into a three-driver contest with six races to go.
Johnson is the only driver within easy reach of Gordon's lead. Clint Bowyer, who finished 11th, is now 63 points out.
It drops off tremendously after that as Stewart, who finished eighth, is 154 points out followed by Kevin Harvick, who is 202 points behind.
Martin Truex Jr., Kenseth and Jeff Burton are all 300 or more points behind the leader and can pretty much be counted out of championship consideration.
It may not matter because Gordon has been the best driver all season and will have to battle defending Cup champion Johnson in the final six races.
"It's two early yet to really say that," Gordon said. "We still have to go race to race."
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