Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Jeff Gordon! A long, long drought is broken, on a wild afternoon, in the final race on Phoenix' old asphalt

  Alan Gustafson's crew gives quick service Sunday to Jeff Gordon -- new to the team this season, after car owner Rick Hendrick's shakeup (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Looks like Rick Hendrick's off-season shake-up did do some good – Jeff Gordon Sunday scored his first tour win in nearly two years, passing for the lead with nine miles to go to break a 66-race drought, beating Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson, in a wild, slam-bam Phoenix 500K.
   "Oh, man – pinch me, man, pinch me!" Gordon said in some unabashed emotion after the 83rd win of his 20-year career…but only his first Sprint Cup tour victory since Texas in April 2009.

    "To do it that way, and see the fans' reaction….
   "We beat Kyle Busch. We all wanted to beat him this weekend."
    Gordon's win was his first with new crew chief Alan Gustafson.  "Man, it's an awesome feeling when they give you a car like this….and with 20 to go I knew it was up to me," Gordon said.
   But catching Kyle Busch is one thing, passing him quite another.
   "I was thinking even if I catch him, what am I going to do with him?" Gordon conceded.
   While Gordon has gone winless for some time now, he's certainly not fallen far off his game. Last year for example he ran top-three six times, and in 2008 he ran second eight times, a potential nine-win season.
   Still, Gordon said "It's been a long time….
   "I've been Tweeting lately, for the first time, and reading them…and to see the fans stick around for my stinking burnout – I'm not very good at them…..it feels great.
   "I'm going to savor this for a long time."

  The other half of Jeff Gordon's life, wife Ingrid and new son Leo Gordon (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   "I think Jeff had something to prove….and this was like our very first win together, Jeff was so emotional," Hendrick said.
   Busch was gunning for a weekend sweep at Phoenix International Raceway after winning Friday's Truck race and Saturday's Nationwide race. And down the stretch he appeared to have the broom in hand.
    "We had a good car on long runs…but right after restarts Jeff was really good," Busch said. "He had a lot of forward bite. The only one of the Hendrick cars. We were both better than that third-place car (Johnson).
   "Jeff was on a mission today. And he's my hero.
    "And that's my old bunch (the team Gordon is now driving for), so it's cool to see them win here.
   "After that last restart (on lap 291 of the 312 at this flat one-mile) I knew Jeff was coming. I was loose, and he was just waiting for the exit to the turn to get under me."
    Gordon got under Busch, lightly banged doors and then pulled up in front of him. In clean air Gordon pulled away to win by eight lengths.
   Busch had the dominant car after Carl Edwards was crashed out, ironically in a tangle with Busch early. Edwards, who ran a close second to Busch in Saturday's Nationwide race, won the pole for Sunday's start.
    However only 60 miles in, Busch triggered a crash that took out Edwards and Jeff Burton, and left Gordon and Kevin Harvick with damaged cars.
    Edwards was not happy. And those recalling his heavy-handed duels last season with Brad Keselowski wondered if Edwards was planning similar retaliation here.
   Busch agreed that he could sense all was not well with Edwards.
   "Unfortunately the car got out from under me, and I got into Carl Edwards, and ruined his day. I apologized to him for that," Busch said.
   "Today felt a lot longer than the whole weekend….
   "It was a rough beginning for a lot of guys."

   Jeff Gordon at the finish line, with Kyle Busch in his dust (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    Indeed, the race had numerous crashes the first hour, and the event stretched well over three hours, including a 15-minute red flag for track cleanup.
    The biggest crash, just moments after the Busch-Edwards brouhaha, took out 14 cars. Brian Vickers laid it on Matt Kenseth: "He just door-slammed us. It will come back to him."
   Kenseth however said he felt he gave Vickers "plenty of room.
    "To be honest with you, I didn't know there was an incident.  I was surprised when I got out of the car and everybody said he was mad at me.  I'm not sure for what. 
    "Maybe I'll watch the replay and see something different. But from where I was, he held me 'close' to the middle of the corner on the restart -- which you should -- and I came off the corner and I never even felt us touch. 
     "I know I left plenty of room to the wall….and I looked in my mirror and saw everybody crashing. 
    "Maybe I'll watch it and see something else, but I really don't know what he’s talking about."  

    Busch, on Edwards: "He was mad, for sure, and frustrated. You could see that the rest of the race. Any time I got within five lengths of him, he'd slow down. then he finally let me go.
   "That was strange. But I made a mistake here, and I've admitted that several times today."
   What was Busch trying to do when he ran into Edwards?
   Ryan Newman had just passed Busch, and Edwards was coming up, and Busch, running high, got a little loose. He tried to duck back in behind Newman, but Edwards was already there, and Busch and Edwards slammed doors. Edwards got the worst of it, moments later crashing. And Edwards said he planned to talk with Busch about that incident.
   Busch apologized several times, through spotters. But when Edwards returned to the track after lengthy repairs it appeared he was toying with Busch.
   "I was trying to duck in behind Ryan," Busch said. "I got a little loose, and when I cut down to get in behind Ryan I didn't even look in my mirror.
   "And my spotter didn't even have time to react.
   "And then Carl was there. And I just turned down across him."
   Edwards: "I'm not exactly sure what happened.  I'll have to talk to Kyle about it. 
   "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. 
    "He hit me hard, and I was left with nothing --  I got rammed to the infield. 
     "If I would have turned right (to correct), I don't think I could have made the corner to clear that curb.
     "That (pointing to his own car) is the fastest car at the track.  It's just a shame it's on jack stands.
     "We'll get it put back together and get all the points we.  We can win this championship."
    Edwards wasn't the only driver who got back on the track after long repairs, with a damaged car. At one point nine drivers over 30 miles down were still out on the track making laps…. bringing into question once again NASCAR's new championship points system, which penalized drivers having a 'bad day' even more than the old system, which was long criticized for just that – penalizing bad days much more so than rewarding good days.
    Gordon's win wasn't the only bright spot for the Rick Hendrick operation. Johnson had a good comeback late after a problem on pit road. In fact he had a good comeback after a ragged Friday and Saturday.
    For much of the weekend rivals were asking 'What's wrong with the Hendrick cars?'
    "We just struggled from Friday, trying to adjust to the things we've done in the off-season," Johnson said. "The first half of the race we were way too loose, and at one time we thought we'd run out of tires, as many times as we'd stopped.
   "On short runs Kyle and Jeff had us beat, but on longer runs I think we had a good enough car to win."

    Jeff Gordon's new colors.....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com