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Jeff Gordon has changed his game plans for 2009, after a winless 2008, and now it's starting to pay off


Hey, where's my cowboy hat too? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   FORT WORTH, Texas
   Jeff Gordon was downright giddy.
   "This feels like the first time I've ever won," the sport's winningest active driver was saying after breaking a year-plus losing streak with a clear-cut victory at his long-time nemesis track, Texas Motor Speedway, a place where he'd never won before.
   "If we can win at Texas, we can win anywhere.
   "This is the first time in NASCAR that I've ever carried the checkered flag around the track after a win. We used to do that in quarter-midgets, but I'd never done that in NASCAR.
   "I can't do a back-flip….but I did a good burnout. Even blew a tire on the backstretch. Didn't want those fans to miss the excitement."
   Ironically, perhaps, wife Ingrid and daughter Ella weren't here to see Gordon win.
   But Gordon said last spring here Ella kept the family awake all night over in the motorhome lot, "And there's probably a reason we ran so terrible in that race," Gordon conceded, dryly.
   However, really, why so long so dry here?
   "At 90 percent of the tracks we go to I know what we need in the car and what I need to have to do as the driver," Gordon said. "But I'll tell you, at Texas I'm just lost. The transitions into and off the corners are so different. This is the most challenging 1-1/2-mile track we go to.
   "In our Saturday debriefing I told the guys 'I don't know what to tell you. I don't know what kind of car we've got.'
   "Then the first lap I got by David Reutimann (for the lead), and the car was sticking, and it was like 'Wow!'
   "But a few laps later we faded, and I was thinking 'Oh, no, this is Texas coming back again….why does this always happen?'"
   However, pit stops – many under green – kept changing the dynamics of the race, because the leader, whoever it might be, when in clean air has such an advantage.
   And Gordon got the cycle just right, leading 105 of the 334 laps. He won the key race off pit road on lap 306 to earn the point for the final restart on lap 309, and Gordon was quickly long gone.
   "Without that last pit stop, and coming out with the lead I don't think we'd have had a chance to win here," crew chief Steve Letarte said.
   "The over-the-wall guys have been beating themselves up pretty bad since California, because we thought we gave one away there."
   Gordon said he believed that too.
   But there was a time not so long ago that Gordon didn't need to have super pit stops to get in winning position, a time when Gordon could charge to victory.
   "But that was long before this car was ever designed…." Gordon said, with a slap at the awkward-handling car-of-tomorrow, which has proven such a problem for most NASCAR drivers for the past year and a half since it was introduced.
   "We won the race because we got out front. And we were fast the first 10 or 12 laps of a run. So it was good that last run was only 25 laps."


Is this the way Kyle Busch does these smokey burnouts? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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