Auto Racing | Gordon extends lead
Jeff Gordon conceded the win to one teammate, worried another would take it from him and stressed about a fuel issue he feared would prevent...
CONCORD, N.C. — Jeff Gordon conceded the win to one teammate, worried another would take it from him and stressed about a fuel issue he feared would prevent him from finishing Saturday night's NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race.
Despite all his concerns, Gordon made it to the finish line for his sixth win of the season, and staked his claim on the Chase for the Nextel Cup title with five races remaining.
Gordon's win in the Bank of America 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway helped him widen his lead in the standings from nine points at the start of the night to 68 over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.
"Just an incredible day for the team," Gordon said. "We needed to get to the finish. We had such a hard time getting to the finish, whether we were wrecking or having a mechanical problem."
Lowe's has vexed Gordon for several years, even though he notched the first of his 81 career victories here in 1994 and he picked up three more wins along the way.
But he had struggled here of late. He finished 24th or worse in six of his previous seven starts at Lowe's, including a 41st-place finish in May.
The four-time Cup champion turned it around.
He needed help from Johnson, who had an uncharacteristic spin, and an agreement from teammate Kyle Busch, who could have wrecked him on a late restart but instead raced him clean.
Later, Gordon got a gift from Ryan Newman, who spun by himself while leading and the win all but wrapped up.
If all that wasn't enough, Gordon's Chevrolet developed a pickup problem that had the driver afraid he was running out of fuel as the race headed to a two-lap overtime shootout after Newman's spin.
"I can't tell you how many times we tried to give this one away," Gordon said. "Jimmie Johnson, I'm not sure what happened to him. He had the field covered. But when I saw he had problems, I thought it was an opportunity for us."
Gordon capitalized after Johnson's spin to move into the lead. He passed Busch with 50 laps to go and seemingly was running away with the race until a late caution brought out the red flag and forced team owner Rick Hendrick to lecture both drivers on the importance of not wrecking each other.
"All I ask is [Busch] be cautious, let's not wreck each other," Gordon said on his radio. "If he can win it, great. But let's do it smart. I'd be happy to finish second to him."
Hendrick then called for Busch.
"Jeff says if you look like you got it, he'll let you go," he told Busch. "But you guys just be smart, OK?"
"That's good," Busch replied.
"No wrecks, OK?" Hendrick reiterated.
Hendrick assured Gordon that Busch would race him clean.
And the restart with five to go indeed went off without a hitch — until Newman scooted by both Hendrick cars on the outside to grab the lead and inexplicably spun to bring out the caution. Gordon inherited the lead, but his fuel issue had him in a near panic before the overtime finish.
"This race was more stressful than it needed to be," crew chief Steve Letarte said.
Gordon had no issue, though, on the restart and pulled away from Clint Bowyer and Busch for his first win at the track since 1999.
It was his second straight victory, as he won last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.
Bowyer finished second to maintain third in the 12-driver Chase standings, 78 points out.
"This isn't my best racetrack, but they gave me a great hot rod," Bowyer said. "I'm just thrilled that I made it through here without hitting the Turn 4 wall."
Busch was third, and gained two spots in the Chase standings, but is sixth and 280 points out.
Tony Stewart finished seventh and is fourth in the points race, 198 behind Gordon.
Kasey Kahne of Enumclaw was eighth. Vancouver, Wash., native Greg Biffle finished 27th of 43. Neither Kahne nor Biffle qualified for the Chase.
Stewart's night was ruined during a midrace pit stop, when he bumped with Paul Menard as he exited his stall, had to squeeze past and moved into Kahne's path.
The cars collided and Stewart's Chevrolet suffered enough damage to force him back to pit road for repairs.
Stewart was furious, complaining to his crew that "31 ... guys that aren't in this [Chase] can dictate it."
|Chasing the Cup|
|Unofficial NASCAR standings, with five races left in the Chase for the Nextel Cup:|
|Martin Truex Jr.||378|
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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