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Gordon extends lead in NASCAR's Chase with Charlotte victory

Oct 14, 2007 - 6:36 AM By Bruce Martin PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor

CONCORD, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Jeff Gordon returned to the scene of his first career NASCAR Cup victory to solidify his hold on the 2007 "Chase for the Championship" by winning Saturday night's Bank of America 500.

The victory gave Gordon a 68-point lead over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson at the halfway point of the Chase. Johnson finished 14th after spinning out on lap 231.

With five laps to go following the 14th caution period of the race, it was set up as a five-lap shootout between the Chevrolet Monte Carlos of Gordon and Kyle Busch.

Gordon, who won his first Cup race here in the 1994 Coca-Cola 600, got a great restart, but Busch went underneath him in the second turn. While that happened, Ryan Newman went to the outside and stole the lead away from the two Hendrick drivers.

But just as Newman appeared a cinch to win the race, he crashed in the second turn on lap 332, setting up a green-white-checkered flag finish.

With fuel-pickup problems a concern on Gordon's Chevrolet, he got a clean restart and was able to pull away from Clint Bowyer's Chevrolet, scoring his 81st career Cup victory by 0.579-seconds. It was his second straight win and the sixth this season

"I can't tell you how many times we tried to give that win away," said Gordon, who collected $288,238 for the win." Jimmie Johnson had us all covered, and when he had his problems I saw that as an opportunity for us. I was saying, 'No caution' and then the thing ran out of gas on the banking.

"I wasn't smart enough to know to run on the apron until the last time. Clint Bowyer gave me a shot on the bumper on the restart and that got me going again."

It was Gordon's first win at Lowe's Motor Speedway since 1999 and the first time in three years he has finished a race here.

Kyle Busch was third in a Chevrolet followed by Jeff Burton's Chevrolet and Carl Edwards' Ford Fusion.

Johnson was running near the front when he lost control of his Chevrolet and spun down the backstretch on lap 231 to bring out another yellow flag. There was damage to the rear-end of the Chevrolet but he was able to remain on the lead lap.

Johnson had led the race six times for 95 laps.

Gordon took over second place when he passed Newman on lap 270. The four-time Cup champion went after the leader, Bowyer, and passed him on lap 273 in the second turn.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Riggs crashed in the second turn on lap 280 for another yellow flag as pit stops were beginning. A tire blew on Montoya's Dodge Charger, triggering the crash.

The caution allowed the contenders to pit for the final time with Kyle Busch beating Gordon off pit road for the lead.

Green-flag racing resumed on lap 285 and it didn't take long for Gordon to regain the lead as he immediately passed Busch.

It looked like smooth sailing for Gordon until Johnny Sauter spun out and crashed after Jeff Green's car sprayed fluid on the track with 12 laps to go.

Gordon's crew decided to keep their driver on the track rather than pitting to set up a showdown between the Hendrick teammates when NASCAR red-flagged the race to clean off the race track.

Just when Newman appeared to be "stealing the win" from the two Hendrick drivers, he gave it away just as fast.

And the victory landed right in Gordon's hands.

"I don't know where to start; I'm fired up about this," Gordon said. "With all the different obstacles we had to overcome tonight it made this one very special. I had my sister here and in 81 race wins she's never been to victory lane. To do it here in Charlotte was really special."

Some thought Gordon may have been overly dramatic with his fuel pickup situation, setting up a decoy for his competitors to fall for.

The winner didn't see it that way, however.

"If I was over-dramatizing it I wouldn't have lost the lead," Gordon said. "I wanted to be way more to the safe side. There is a reason why those guys drove by me and I'm thankful Kyle played it smart. Newman smoked by us on the outside but nobody would have touched us if we didn't have that fuel issue.

"All I cared about is if we had a start where the engine didn't suck the fuel out of the pickup point."

It was a dramatic end to a wild race that had 15 cautions for 62 laps. When Johnson wasn't in the lead for his race-high 95 laps, Bowyer led three times for 79 with Gordon in front four times for 72 laps.

There were 26 lead changes among 11 drivers but when the moment mattered most, it was four-time Cup champion Gordon that capitalized.

"Our goal was to get to the end 500 miles," Gordon said. "If we could do that we had a top-five car. There is no doubt this team has amazing chemistry to it. Things are going our way, call it luck or Karma. There's still a lot to go, though and things that can take you out of it.

"I didn't do anything different tonight I haven't done the last several races. It just really worked out."

Gordon doesn't believe in luck; he believes a driver is able to capitalize on opportunities when they present themselves. And that's what he has done this season as he has returned to his place as NASCAR's best driver.

"I believe you make a lot of luck," Gordon said. "I don't even know if I believe in luck. A lot of factors go your way. Things just don't happen just because. You have to be well prepared and be in position for things to go your way."

"It was our night to win and we showed we had the car. Obviously the results speak for itself. It was crazy the 12 (Newman) had their trouble but it was crazy the trouble we had ourselves. It was a crazy chain of events and I was blown away it was happening."

It's been a remarkable year for Gordon, who became a father for the first time when his wife, Ingrid, gave birth to a baby daughter in June. Throw in six more Cup victories where he has passed such legends as the late Dale Earnhardt, and a Nextel Cup title in his grasp, it's easily the best year of his life.

"I don't care what happens with the championship this is my year just because of being a father," Gordon said. "With the wins we've had so far this has been the most incredible year. I hope we can seal it with a championship. It would be better than the year with the 13 wins and the championship. I believe everything happens for a reason and you have to work hard to make everything happen.

"I don't have all the answers to it but whatever we're doing we're going to keep doing it."

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