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Victory At Talladega


TALLADEGA, AL. (April 26)- - Jeff Gordon made a daring move to the low side of Dale Earnhardt Jr with six laps remaining in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway to pull even with the venerable #8 Chevrolet. The duo ran side-by-side for a lap before Brian Vickers spun in turn three. At the moment of caution, Gordon was several feet ahead of Earnhardt Jr. The race ended under caution with Gordon out front to claim his first victory of the season and 65th of his illustrious career. It was his seventh career win on a restrictor plate track-- the most among active drivers. Gordon hung around the top-15 all day, falling back on several occasions due to the draft. He was one car ahead of Kurt Busch when the day's biggest wreck occurred on lap 83. Tony Stewart got underneath Busch going into turn three and hit the left rear of the Sharpie Ford. Busch spun backwards up the track and collected eight cars. Gordon's most harrowing moment came on lap 114. Michael Waltrip came down into the right front of the Pepsi Chevrolet and made contact with Kerry Earnhardt's car before straightening up. However, Earnhardt wasn't so fortunate as he spun into the inside wall on the backstretch. As the day progressed, Gordon worked with Jimmie Johnson when he could but the Hendrick Motorsports teammates separated in the closing laps. On the final restart with nine laps remaining, Gordon was in seventh position. He moved to the outside line and steadily gained positions. He made the winning pass after getting a drafting push from Kevin Harvick. Gordon dedicated the victory to Papa Joe Hendrick who watched the finish from a Charlotte area hospital. "We've been trying to get one for Papa Joe," said Gordon. "I know Rick and Papa Joe were watching. Boys, this one's for you." Gordon's victory lap was marred by a flurry of debris from the grandstands as a number of idiotic "fans" voiced their displeasure with the finish under the caution flag.

Jeff Gordon's post-race press conference

"It feels real good to be in victory lane. Beating the DEI cars is so difficult to do. We did everything we could. I didn't know if we were ahead there in the end, but I knew I was ahead of him going into (turn) three. We're going to let NASCAR make that call. But what an awesome effort by this race team - Robbie Loomis and all the guys on this team. We're just really happy for Rick Hendrick and Pop. I know they're watching back in the hospital back there in Charlotte. Our prayers go out to Pop and to Robbie's mom too. She's been under the weather. I know it's going to be controversial, but I don't care."

It's been a long time (April 2000) since you won a restrictor plate race
"It seems like a long time since I've won any race. I can't think of a better one to win. We run so darn good on restrictor plate races but those DEI guys have just been embarrassing us. I didn't now what was going to happen there. I knew I got ahead of him (Dale Jr.) going into (turn) three. I passed him but I wasn't passing him. Luckily right before I put the after-burner on, the caution must have come out. I'm going to go with NASCAR on that one. I don't know if everybody here agrees but I certainly do."

There was a lot of debris on the track as well
"I don't know if they were Pepsi cans or beer cans. But there were a lot of them out there. I did a burnout over all those cans. If just feels great to get back to victory lane. These guys did a great job. It was a great day for us."

Discuss the final restart with 9 laps to go
"It was pretty exciting. I had no idea what was going to happen those last nine laps. They dropped the green and I just wanted to get the best start I could. Jamie McMurray said he was going to push me as far as he could. He pushed me at turn one and when I went to the outside he left me. Luckily by that time I had so much momentum that I went to the outside and hoped it would carry me. Michael (Waltrip) and Jimmie (Johnson) got together and it stalled everybody up and allowed me to shoot up there. Once I got towards Junior, I was working the momentum the best I could. Luckily, I had some help. I got a huge push down the back straightaway and I knew there was no way that Junior was going to be able to block the momentum and I got to the inside of him. But we went back and forth and he'd get a shove and I'd get a shove. When we went into turn 3, I knew I'd gotten ahead of him but I wasn't completely ahead of him. When the wreck happened, I knew I was ahead of him but I didn't know when they threw the caution. But he did come back and get ahead of me pretty late off of turn 4. I had no idea how they were going to judge that. You never know when the caution comes out."

When did you find out that you were in front under caution?
"First they said the #8 was ahead of the #24 and when I got to turn 2 they said the #24 was ahead of the #8. And I said, 'Really? Okay (laughs). Cool.' Dale Jr rode next to me because obviously he wanted to fight the call. Neither one of us really knew. They I was waiting for them to drop the green and for us to go back to racing for one lap but they didn't. They kept it under caution. With the breaks we've had lately, I still wasn't going to get excited until we crossed that line. Once we did, it was an amazing feeling."

Did you take satisfaction from doing a burnout over the beer cans thrown by the "fans"?
"I took a lot of satisfaction out of a lot of things from that moment. And that was one of them. Anytime Junior doesn't win here and he has a shot at, I think it's controversial. There are so many people pulling for him. He has a huge fan base. It was controversial because of that and because we didn't go back to racing. I think they wanted to see him have a shot at it. But we've had this Dupont/Pepsi car for a few years not and never gotten it into victory lane. So that was very gratifying. And, it was our first NEXTEL Cup Series win. "It's not the same if they just stand up and turn around and leave. You want some stuff. You want some action. I don't mind a little controversy either. When they were throwing all that stuff out there, it made me smile and laugh. I wanted to enjoy it. I actually stopped so they could throw it on me and hit the car. And then I did a burnout to spit as many cans out the back of the car that I possibly could."

Dale Jr said he never saw the caution light. Did you?
"I never saw a light. I couldn't tell you where the light is down there. But I wasn't looking for a light. I was trying to stay ahead of him. I don't know how they decide. I went with the decision last week that I didn't necessarily feel was the right one, and I'm going to go with the one this week that happens in my favor and I'm going to say it's the right one."

Do you feel the normal Jeff Gordon fan is better behaved?
"Well, let's just say this. My fans are drinking Pepsi. They're not drinking Budweiser. So that automatically puts them in a different position when it comes to decision-making."

What was your reaction to the initial call?
"I knew I was ahead of him when they said the wreck happened. And then it seemed like there was a long pause before my spotter said they had thrown the caution. I wondered right then why they waited so long to throw the caution. We would have been ahead of him right then. When they went back and reviewed the tape, they must have felt like the caution was thrown right as the wreck was happening or right after. When I first heard that the #8 was ahead of the #24, it could have gone either way really. With the HANS device and head supports we have, it's hard to look over and know whether you're ahead or not ahead. So I just accepted it and hoped we'd go back green."

On NASCAR's feelings that one-lap shootouts at Daytona and Talladega are dangerous
"I absolutely agree with that. This is a unique place where the restrictor plates are involved and we are three and four-wide. It's nothing but trouble. You saw how hairy it was out there today. We certainly didn't need to add to that."

What was your take on the whole thing?
Robbie Loomis: "I was watching it on the monitor and I clearly felt that Jeff was ahead of Junior going into turn 3. But it's not only the flag but it's the light. Either one of those dictates that the caution is out. Evidently one of them must have been out when we were in front. I was very thankful. I thought for sure we'd win in Texas or Martinsville, but we didn't. And here we are now. It feels great."




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