Darkness On The Edge of Town
AVONDALE, AZ. (April 23)- - Kurt Busch made a statement early in the Subway 500 in Phoenix, Arizona that he would be the driver to beat. On the opening lap, he held the throttle when the green flag waved and took the lead right off the bat from Jeff Gordon. Despite having the dominant car, Busch was mired in race traffic several times during the night. He passed Michael Waltrip for the lead with 43 laps to go and held off a late charge from Waltrip to win his first race of the season and 12th of his career. The victory moved the defending Nextel Cup champion up to second in the points standings.
Gordon's night was a battle from the outset. He fell back from the start and dropped to 13th by lap 130. The low point came when he made two pit stpos under caution on lap 167 and fell to 24th place. Though Gordon rebounded when darkness enveloped the track. He moved up to 14th on lap 200 and inherited the lead when he stayed on the track during a pit stop sequence. However, his lead was short-lived as he dropped to third shortly after the restart with 86 laps to go. He made his final pit stop on lap 246 and restarted in 10th. He lost ground and dropped to 15th with 40 laps to go before pulling up late in the race to take 12th place on a night when he surely expected more.
Hard To Handle
FT. WORTH, TX. (April 18)- - Texas Motor Speedway remains a befuddling track for Jeff Gordon and his race team. Despite a recent string of top-five finishes, simple bad luck had previously kept him from victory lane. But his problems on Sunday had nothing to do with luck; just handling. He started the day by moving up from fifth to second in the first 13 laps. However, he slipped back on the longer runs and was running 12th when the caution came out on lap 79. He battled a tight handling car in the mid-stages of the race and fell to 18th on lap 170. Despite numerous changes on pit road such as air pressure and spring rubbers, the car's handling did not improve enough for Gordon to contend. He stayed out under caution to lead a lap with 60 laps to go, but restarted 19th after coming to pit road. Gordon gained four spots in the final 20 laps to post a 15th place finish. "It was a frustrating, long day," Gordon said. "I guess we've got to be happy to be coming home 15th." We were pretty good on new tires for about 4-5 laps. Then we were just really far off and it certainly wasn't for lack of effort. We fought hard all day hard long yesterday. We fought hard all day today and just never hit on anything that worked well for us. It just makes you appreciate (wins) more. You know, it certainly inspires us to find out what we can do when we come back here. We want to come back here and win this race at the end of the season. You're going to have days like that. You can't give up. You just have to keep fighting all day no matter where you end up. We made the best of what we had and it wasn't pretty. But it could have been a lot worse also."
Comeback For The Ages
MARTINSVILLE, VA. (April 11)- - Jeff Gordon scored one of the biggest comeback victories of his career by rallying from 3 laps down to score the win in the Advance Auto Parts 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Gordon's 71st career win came in the first NASCAR race at Martinsville since last October's tragic plane crash that shook Hendrick Motorsports to its core. But as the organization proved, there is strength at that core. Feeding off the drive and determination exhibited by Rick Hendrick in the days and weeks that followed, HMS remained focused on the tasks at hand. At Martinsville, Gordon started 16th and worked his way into the top-ten by lap 40. However, a wheel problem sent him to pit road for an unscheduled pit stop on lap 47. He lost two laps, and later lost a third lap as the crew inspected the wheel threading. On lap 66, he was in 39th position and had his work cut out for him. He got one of his laps back after lining up on the inside and passing the race leader on a restart. On lap 134, he got another lap back by surging ahead of the race leader on a restart. He remained one lap down until lap 275 when he was in position to get the free pass for being the first car one lap down. With just over 200 laps to go, he restarted in 18th. With 54 laps remaining, Gordon dove to the inside of Kurt Busch for position. Busch entered the corner and came down into Gordon's line. The contact sent Busch spinning into the retaining wall. Undeterred, Gordon continued the charge by passing Ryan Newman and Mark Martin to move up to second place. With 36 laps to go, he tracked down and passed Marlin. He held off Kasey Kahne for his second victory of the season. "There's something special about this place and we lost so many incredible people, part of this organization and racing community and I think it's only fitting for us to get this victory," Gordon said. "I know how much it means to Rick and his family and all those other families, and it means a lot to this race team."
Imperfect Ending At Bristol
BRISTOL, TN. (April 3)- - Typical Bristol. That's about all that can be said after the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. While Jeff Gordon's 15th place finish might seem rather mundane, his day was anything but ordinary. Gordon started fourth and held steady in the top-five for the first 100 laps of the race. However, an unscheduled pit stop on lap 122 dropped him two laps off the pace. He restarted in 33rd position but quickly passed race leader Rusty Wallace to get one of his laps back. After a caution on lap 160, Gordon restarted on the inside and moved into a position to get the free pass when the caution came out for debris on lap 185. He got back on the lead lap in 29th position. By the halfway point of the event, Gordon was running in 18th. He moved into the top-ten by lap 300, all the while avoiding a litany of wrecks. Though he was involved in a skirmish on lap 333 when Bobby Hamilton Jr. spun out Ken Schrader on the backstretch. A total of 11 cars sustained damage, including Gordon after knocking fenders with Bobby Labonte. The crew made cosmetic repairs and Gordon rejoined the race in 11th place. He assumed the lead when he stayed on the track during a caution period on lap 361. It was the first time he led a race since winning at Daytona. On older tires, his lead eventually evaporated and Greg Biffle took the top spot on lap 397. The leaders pitted for the final time on lap 412 and Gordon restarted in fifth. He worked his way up to third position with 15 laps to go, where he would have likely have finished the event. However, steering problems forced him to pit road with 9 laps remaining. He lost two laps in the pits and finished 15th. At the front of the field, Kevin Harvick took the lead from Biffle on lap 432 and pulled away to win his first race since the 2003 season.
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