Daytona Speedweeks - 2001

Daytona 500
Twin 125-mile Qualifying race

Daytona 500

Everything seemed to be going according to plan for Jeff Gordon in the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. He was in the lead draft, had taken the lead of the race on a few occasions, and looked to be in a prime position to battle it out for the victory. And then things changed in a hurry on lap 174 when Robby Gordon got loose coming off the second turn. He hit Ward Burton who collected Tony Stewart. From there, the melee was on. A total of 21 cars were involved. An off-season of work by the DuPont team went down the drain in an instant.

Starting Strong
Gordon started in 13th position and drafted with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jerry Nadeau in the opening laps. By lap 5, the pair was running fourth and fifth. In the 35-car draft, positions are gained and lost at a rapid rate. Gordon was shuffled back to ninth but made his way up to third position by lap 20. On lap 26, he drafted past race leader Sterling Marlin by tucking onto the back bumper of Dale Earnhardt. Another shuffle in the draft sent Gordon back to 13th position by lap 36 but he rebounded up to sixth by lap 40.

After The First Pit Stop
Jeff Purvis cut a tire and hit the turn four wall to bring out the day's first caution on lap 47. Gordon came onto pit road in seventh position and left in fifth- another fine stop by the Rainbow Warriors. The restart on lap 52 saw Gordon draft with Earnhardt up to 4th position. The draft shuffled the cars up and Gordon slipped to 19th by lap 65. He gained five spots over the next 15 laps as green flag pit stops neared.

Charging To The Front
Lap 101 saw Gordon and a host of other leaders dive onto pit road. When the field had completed their pit stops, Gordon was running in fourth. On lap 106 the DuPont Chevrolet burst into the lead with drafting help from Ricky Rudd. Earnhardt and Steve Park would draft by a few laps later to send Gordon back to third. A draft from Mike Wallace thrust Gordon back into the lead on lap 114. The shuffle began soonafter and Gordon slipped to fifth.

Back and Forth
On lap 123, Gordon hooked up in a draft with Dale Earnahardt Jr. With help from Rudd, he drafted past Mike Skinner to take the lead on lap 130. Ward Burton made his way to the top spot a few laps later and Gordon fell to fifth. Green flag pit stops on lap 151 saw Gordon make a minor error. He overshot his pit box and had to back up about a foot. The slip cost him a few spots on the racetrack and he fell to seventh. On lap 166 he drafted up to third with help from eventual race winner Michael Waltrip. A few laps later he was shuffled to ninth. As he came off of turn two on lap 174, trouble began.

The Melee
Robby Gordon clipped the left rear of Ward Burton's Pontiac. Burton let off the gas and collected Tony Stewart. From that point on, everyone following was just a passenger in a 190 mile per hour torture chamber. Stewart's car flipped wildly on the backstretch a half dozen times before coming to rest on the hood of Bobby Labonte's car. Meanwhile, Mark Martin swung wide to avoid the wreck but wound up getting hit and spun across the track. Jeff Gordon dived low on the track but was hit in the front and rear multiple times. In all, 21 cars were involved. "It's great racing, it's exciting, there's a lot of passing, a lot of lead changes," Gordon said. "But one little mistake and something like that is going to happen. It's inevitable."

The Finish
Gordon made his way to the garage area and pulled behind the wall while the race was red flagged for 20 minutes. The DuPont crew made a few repairs and Gordon limped around the track for a few laps after racing resumed. He pulled behind the wall shortly thereafter with a 30th place effort and a DNF to start the 2001 season. When racing resumed, Michael Waltrip was thrust into the lead with drafting help from Earnhardt Jr. Waltrip held his line and wouldn't allow Earnhardt Jr. to get a run on his Napa Chevrolet. Entering turn three of the final lap, Waltrip led Earnhardt Jr. by three car lengths. The battle for third was between the elder Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Ken Schrader, and Sterling Marlin. At the exit to turn four, Marlin appeared to touch the left rear of Earnhardt's car. The GM Goodwrech Chevrolet swung low and then across the track going head-on into the wall. Schrader's Pontiac was also collected in the wreck. Waltrip held off Earnhardt Jr. to win his first career race. Meanwhile, back in turn four, the greatest driver in the history of stock car racing had suffered fatal injuries in the wreck. The story ends here.

Twin 125-mile Qualifying Race

Jeff Gordon rolled the dice early and often in the first Twin 125-mile Qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway. Gordon started third and took the lead from Bill Elliott heading into turn three on the ninth lap of the 50 lap event. He held the top spot until Dale Earnhardt passed on lap 20. Gordon was shuffled as far back as 13th position by the halfway point of the event on lap 25, but soon made his way up to 7th with drafting help from Sterling Marlin and Dale Jarrett. A caution on lap 35 for Johnny Benson's contact with the wall brought the field onto pit road for tires. Gordon left pit road in fifth position and took the low line in turn two to bolt into the lead with drafting help from his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jerry Nadeau. Earnhardt regained the lead on lap 42 and Gordon was shuffled back to 8th. A daring move off of turn four put Gordon back into contention with seven laps remaining. He took the high line off the corner and used the draft from Andy Houston and Jason Leffler to swing down to the inside. Drafting help from Nadeau on the low side of the track thrust the DuPont Chevrolet up to second position with five laps remaining. On lap 46, Ron Hornaday spun and collected Dale Jarrett to bring out the second caution of the event. The restart with one lap remaining saw Earnhardt leading Gordon. Marlin got a head of steam built up heading onto the backstretch and with drafting help from Nadeau, the Coors Light Dodge took the lead. Nadeau was unable to mount a challenge coming off turn four and Marlin put Dodge in victory lane. Following Nadeau was Earnhardt, Houston, and Jimmy Spencer. Gordon was shuffled back to sixth at the finish and will start Sunday's Daytona 500 from the 13th position.

Photos from the lens of Christina Shockley

Smiling on stage
A Q&A session on the Fritos stage
Answering a question
Jeff answers a question during the Q&A

On pit road
Jeff on pit road during the Daytona 500

Following the legend
Following the legend onto pit road... one last time

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