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So there's still fire in Jeff Gordon's belly, and crew chief Steve Letarte has a winning car again


Jeff Gordon at the finish line of Thursday's first Daytona 150 (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Chevy's Jeff Gordon's dry spell in NASCAR came to an end Thursday in a victory over Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano and Aric Almirola in the afternoon's first 150-mile qualifier at Daytona International Speedway…and Scott Riggs put Tommy Baldwin's underdog team into the Daytona 500.
   Gordon's last NASCAR Sprint Cup tour win was at Charlotte in the fall of 2007.
   Logano, the 18-year-old rookie running for the team Stewart raced with for the past 10 years, drove a brilliant race and was running third and making a passing bid to the outside into turn three on the last lap. But Logano's driving a Toyota, and Stewart is now in a Chevy, and Logano was on his own in the final mile, getting squeezed out for third by Johnson, Gordon's teammate – for a 1-2-3 Chevy finish.
   "Who says we can't win?" a jubilant Gordon said.
   "I haven't seen two better races here at Daytona than last Saturday's Shootout and this one."
   The last lap it looked like Stewart's best hope for a win was to make a move down the backstretch and hope for a bump-draft from Logano, to get around Gordon. But Stewart never made a move and appeared content to run behind Gordon to the finish…rather than try to make something happen, with some help from Logano.
   But then if Stewart were to make a move, he might have opened the door for Johnson – and a 1-2 Rick Hendrick finish. 
   So Stewart stayed put, and Logano made his own move at the end of the backstretch, which opened the low lane for Johnson, who quickly took it.
   "I was hoping some cars would go with me," Logano said of his bid to the high side. "I don't regret that move. I learned some things."
  First, perhaps, that Chevy buds tend to stick together, and Logano isn't in a Chevy.
   However just that Logano ran so smoothly that he was part of the end-game was perhaps remarkable in itself.
   Riggs, one of the underfinanced underdogs here, finished eighth to earn a spot in the 500. Riggs, driving for new owner/crew chief Baldwin, credited "the volunteers who came in to help us. They've put their hearts and souls into this.
   "We're elated. This is grassroots for us. To get in this race speaks volumes for us. Tommy has committed to going to every single race, and I hope we can go further with this. So far we've got the first three sponsored."
   Baldwin, who crewed Ward Burton to the 2002 Daytona 500 victory, is trying to establish himself as a NASCAR team owner, and he's got a very small team, running in the mold of the late Alan Kulwicki. Both Baldwin and Riggs are not only underdogs but also guys who are hoping to make comebacks this season.
   "Tommy is definitely a very high-strung individual, and I can be high-strung too, but so far we've worked together well.
   "We know this isn't the perfect situation, and we certainly didn't say 'Hey, let's put together an underdog team.'
  "We both know we're backed into the corner, to fight our way out."
  "Just picked up where we left off the other night," Stewart said of his very strong run. For a few moments it appeared the race was Stewart's to win, but Gordon slipped by with just over a lap to go.
   "I'm happy. I'm more worried about
   "Jeff and I had a great battle at the end. It wasn't where everybody was running everybody all over the track at the end. If a guy had an honest run, he was going to get that spot.
   "I'm just in shock that this week has gone as well as it has. Except with Ryan losing that motor Wednesday it's been awesome."

   Such a beautiful day in the neighborhood (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Why people thought Letarte is

Why people thought Letarte is a bad crew chief is mystifying.

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