Victory At Talladega: The Best Damn Thing

TALLADEGA, AL. - The greatest drivers rise to the occasion when the opportunity presents itself. As the laps wound down in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR's greatest active driver cemented his legacy once again. Jeff Gordon's 77th career victory was made possible by a combination of patience and experience. The key to every Talladega race is making the winning move at the right time. For Gordon, the time was a restart with 10 laps to go as he went from 14th to the lead in the ensuing 10-lap span, and then held off the field during a brief final restart. Gordon started from the pole but lost the lead on lap 3 as the outside lane went by. However, he remained in the top-5 for the balance of the first 50 laps. He reassumed the lead on lap 50 with a push from Jimmie Johnson-- it wouldn't be the last time Johnson assisted his teammate during the race as he repeated the manuever on lap 69 in pushing Gordon to the lead. Gordon returned the favor on lap 87 by pushing Johnson to the front of the pack. On lap 100, Gordon became separated from his teammate and worked with Matt Kenseth. However, a push from Casey Mears got the Hendrick Motorsports cars back in sync. Gordon was able to stay out front through the mid-stages, relatively rare at Talladega. With 48 laps to go, he wound up get shuffled back to 12th in the middle line. With 40 to go, he was back in 25th looking for drafting partners. He then hooked up with Tony Stewart and stayed with the mercurial driver for the next 25 laps. A debris caution brought the field into a single-file restart with 10 laps to go. With 9 to go, Gordon and Stewart broke out of line and went low. Johnson also moved down to work with them. With 6 to go, Gordon moved into the middle and entered the top-5 with Johnson right behind him. Two laps later, Gordon jumped to the outside to take the lead, all the while with his teammate in tow. A caution with 4 laps to go brought a green/white/checkered finish. However, a crash on the first lap after the restart ended the race with Gordon ahead on the backstretch. He cruised around amidst a shower of debris from lowlife animals in the grandstand. It is Gordon's second consecutive victory and 11th career restrictor plate win. "I've never caused a riot before by winning - well maybe once or twice," Gordon said. "There were a lot of people out there who didn't want to see us win."

Postrace Comments

Jeff Gordon: "Obviously, we're thrilled. It was one of those days where it seemed like we couldn't anything wrong and then at the end, I didn't feel like were going to be anywhere close to the front. That's how this race is. You try to maintain track position. I knew we had a strong car. We seemed to be able to get some help to get out there and stay there. But the race got really unique and different there at the end. The way those guys were lined up, nobody was able to pass and nobody seemed to want to get out of line. There were a bunch of cars that were pretty far back. I kept asking Stevie to tell me how many laps there were to go. It was hard to have patience. I wanted to get out of that line. I knew how fast my race car was. I thought if three or four of us could get together, I knew we could go up there. But it was really hard to be patient. The only thing that helped us one time was when Steve was asking me to save fuel, so we were just sitting there riding. After the restart when there was about nine laps to go, I knew things would get shuffled up and that's when the whole race started to come to us at that point. Everything did get shuffled up and we were bumping and banging all over the place. I just happened to get a great push from Jimmie (Johnson) and we drove from about 5th or 6th all the way to the lead. I don't know who was behind him, but he must have had a pretty good line of them behind him as well because we had a heck of a run. And then the caution came out. It was all about that last restart. I knew those guys were going to be tough. They were laying back doing all kinds of things. It felt like we were pretty good once they dropped the green. But then when I saw Jimmie get inside of McMurray, I thought oh boy, we're in trouble. I knew how good his stuff is and how good he is on these restrictor plate tracks. So that caution sort of saved us. I hate to win one like that. But I felt like we really earned it to get up there to be in that position. So I'm real proud of it."

Crew chief Steve Letarte: "I think Jeff said it the best. It was a very odd race for about the second two-thirds of the race. In the beginning, it was normal Talladega with two or three-wide most of the time. The new surface really promotes great racing. It's really smooth. The caution fell at a really odd time - right around a fuel window. It's a rare occurrence when you see everybody ride around until the end of the caution and then pit. That really set the tone for the whole race. And then I think everyone was forced to save fuel, including us. But it was very frustrating that nobody was making any moves. I thought at that point maybe we made a poor decision to lose our track position. It ended up working out okay. The caution, with about 12 to go, was like Jeff said, the turning point for the whole race. That forced everybody to show their hand and make their move. I can't say enough about our teammate. Jimmie Johnson gave us a couple of unbelievable pushes to pass some of those lapped cars and some of those faster cars. To get up there like that was really just a good day."

Car owner Rick Hendrick: "I always enjoy watching Jeff drive these restrictor plate races. He did his job again today coming from the back a couple of times and working the traffic. There were a lot of good cars right there with him. At the end of the day he was where he needed to be and he made some great moves. Stevie made some great calls there at the end to protect us on fuel. It was a good day. All the cars ran good today. I hate it for Casey Mears and Kyle Busch, but Jimmie (Johnson) ran second. We were really happy with that. It's been a heck of a year and you enjoy it while you can because you know a lot of these races we probably shouldn't have won. But we did. If we can be competitive, hopefully breaks will go our way. I just kind of wish we had the momentum in the last 10 races rather than the first 10."

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