Junior Sweeps Through Bristol
BRISTOL, TN. (August 29)- - Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 295 of the 500 laps en route to the victory in the Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Earnhardt Jr. started 30th but moved into the high rent district during the cycling of pit stops within the first 70 laps of the race. He traded the lead several times with Rusty Wallace and Jimmie Johnson, but was never seriously challenged after taking the lead for the final time on lap 416 from Jeff Burton. Combined with his victory in the Busch series race a night earlier, Earnhardt Jr. became the first driver to sweep both the Busch and Cup series race at Bristol in the same weekend. It was his fourth victory of the season and 13th of his career.
Jeff Gordon's night started off well as he led the first 58 laps from the pole position. However, a tight handling condition hindered his efforts nearly the entire night. He dropped to 11th after the first round of pit stops by taking four tires, but steadily made his way through traffic. Gordon moved up to fifth on lap 125 and worked on Sterling Marlin for several laps before taking fourth place on lap 216. He briefly took the lead during a cycle of green flag pit stops. However, he went over the line in his pit stall and had to back up, which cost several seconds. He returned to the track in 12th place and worked his way up to 9th before Earnhardt Jr passed Gordon on lap 269 to put him one lap down. A caution flag on lap 327 allowed the DuPont team to made adjustments to the car. Gordon restarted 13th and worked his way up to 11th through a series of caution flags. After Rusty Wallace spun in turn two on lap 388 to bring out a caution flag, Gordon got back on the lead lap. However, on the ensuing restart, Gordon was black-flagged for not restarting at the end of the longest line. The penalty put him back in 14th place, the last car on the lead lap. He eventually went a second lap down as Earnhardt Jr. passed by in the closing stages. "I thinkNASCAR really made a big mistake on the call there for black-flagging me because I knew I was supposed to go to the tail end of the longest line," Gordon said. "I waited for cars to go by me. The inspector in the pits told Robbie Loomis to tell me if they wave you by or they're wrecked, then you're OK. And so I'm waiting and I look up and there's nothing but wrecked cars behind me that won't pass me. Dale Jarrett went by me, and then I think he was at the tail end of the longest line, so he let me go by and then Kyle Petty waved me by him. And I got in front of him. We took off and NASCAR black-flagged me."
DARLINGTON, S.C. (August 25)- - Jeff Gordon joined NASCAR legends David Pearson and Cale Yarborough, along with Bobby Hamilton, to take the first laps at Darlington Raceway at night. The exhibition took place on August 24 where the drivers ran a few laps to test out the lighting system. The drivers took to the track shortly after 8pm. Pearson, the track's all-time champ with 10 victories, was driving a vintage #21 Mercury Cougar that he drove for the Wood Brothers in the 1970's. Yarborough, who's tied with Gordon with a record five Southern 500 victories, was in a 1977 Oldsmobile borrowed from a collector. Each driver cruised 10 laps around Darlington in front 12,000-15,000 fans-- perhaps larger than the usual crowd during Friday qualifying-- who got in free for the night show. The four drivers kicked off the exhibition by riding Harley Davidson motorcycles on the track before the festivities began. Gordon treated the night like a mini-test session. He ran three segments of three, three and four laps, and made trips to the garage area for adjustments between segments. When he finished the 10 laps, Gordon stopped on the start-finish line and jumped on top of his #24 Chevrolet to wild applause. He said night racing will make a treacherous track even more difficult. "This is Darlington," Gordon said. "It's not a track you mess with and under the lights, I tried to respect that. It's definitely a different experience. I'd never thought we'd race here under the lights. I think we're going to love it. You can see how avid these fans are. This race track is so rich in history, they want to keep it around here a long time." Gordon's crew chief, Robbie Loomis, said Gordon was seeking any knowledge he could about night conditions at Darlington. Loomis said Gordon told him riding over to the track in the afternoon that he might discover how the setting sun affected glare in the cockpit. "Those are things people don't realize about Jeff Gordon," Loomis said. "He's always looking to get something out of it." The first race under the lights will be the Truck series race in November. The Cup series will race under the lights for the first time in May 2005 at Darlington.
Long Time Coming
BROOKLYN, MI. (August 23)- - Jeff Gordon emerged from the GFS 400 at Michigan International Speedway with something he hasn't had since the end of the 2001 season-- the lead in the points standings. After Jimmie Johnson experienced engine problems for the third consecutive week, Gordon claimed seventh place to take a 68 point lead. Gordon's car appeared hooked up at the start of the race, but he struggled with handling issues as the day progressed. He took the race lead on the start but dropped the top spot on lap 40 to Kurt Busch. Five laps later he was in fourth place. He dropped to 11th during a round of pit stops but made his way through traffic. Gordon's most harrowing moments came on restarts. Just after a restart on lap 61, Gordon pulled into the middle lane and made a daring 3-wide pass on Johnson and Robby Gordon to take seventh place. He ran between sixth and eighth until the halfway point when he dropped to 12th on pit road. He re-entered the top-ten on lap 103 and moved into the top-five on lap 111. During caution flag pit stops on lap 130, he came off pit road in the runner-up spot. But that would be as high as Gordon would go for the remainder of the day. He slipped to fourth just after the restart and fell out of the top-five with 50 laps to go. "We're just kind of happy to finish today," Gordon said. "We've got to figure out what's going on with the engines. Mine didn't feel great there since like the last the 70 laps. We certainly had some concerns. The points lead is good when you're racing for it. It doesn't matter if you're in the points lead right now. It doesn't really mean a whole lot. I look forward to those last ten races. Hopefully you'll be seeing that at the end of those 10." The engine problems on the Lowe's car are uncharacteristic of Hendrick Motorsports. "Right now they're not finishing races for whatever reasons," Gordon said. "We got to make sure we change that and figure out what's going on there. We didn't really have that big of an issue but we definitely had some problems. I'm not real happy with where my engine ended up today either. We're not experimenting-- we had too many problems the last time we were here. We don't want to experiment right now. I don't know if it's just this track. I know this place is very hard on equipment and we're pushing the limits. We certainly shouldn't be having these problems. Right now all I'm thinking about is how bad we got beat today."
Ride Along Program
CONCORD, N.C. (August 18)- - On August 17, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch spent the day at Lowe's Motor Speedway entertaining sponsor representatives. Not just entertaining, but driving the reps around the 1.5-mile track at a high rate of speed. The wall coming off turn four seems a lot closer from the passenger seat.
PAINTED POST, N.Y. (August 16)- - Jeff Gordon's day at Watkins Glen was looking up when points leader Jimmie Johnson dropped out with transmission problems on lap 25. Gordon was in position to take the series points lead for the first time since 2001. Gordon swapped the lead with Stewart twice in the opening 25 laps. During a cycle of pit stops, Gordon dropped as far back as 35th on lap 29 before working his way back up. When cars ahead of him pitted, he was able to move back into the top ten on lap 38. He steadily made his way forward by passing Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kevin Harvick, and Robby Gordon to gain third place on lap 48. Gordon re-took the top spot on lap 57 during an exchange of pit stops but fell to 17th when he made his final pit stop on lap 58. He moved back into the top-ten on lap 65. The final restart came with 15 laps to go and Gordon quickly made his way around Matt Kenseth and Ricky Rudd. With 11 laps to go he passed Dave Blaney to move up to fourth. However, Gordon lost third gear with eight laps remaining and only had fourth gear. He dropped to tenth within two laps, and was running 21st when the checkered flag waved. Since Johnson and Gordon had a comfortable lead at the top of the standings, both drivers tried a new transmission for the race. The gamble didn't pay off. "The transmission went all at once," Gordon said. "We didn't have the car (to pass) Tony. He was really strong all day. It wasn't our day. We had a good car and pulled ourselves back into the top five and were pretty content with that. And then I went to go into third gear and had nothing. So I just had to ride around in fourth gear for the rest of the way. We knew going in that it was a gamble and right now we can afford to do that. We wanted to win, but we thought that this transmission would give us a little more speed. It was good for most of the day but it didn't make it to the end. We were trying new things. Maybe we shouldn't of risked it that much. We felt like right now it's a road course. There isn't a road course in those last ten races. We're almost testing today for next year. It was a call we made as a team to try it. It didn't work out for me or Jimmie. That's disappointing, but other than that it was a good day."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (August 12)- - After celebrating his victory in the Brickyard 400 at the start/finish line before making his way to the winner's circle, Jeff Gordon seemingly upset the apple cart in the NASCAR world. "I can't adequately describe how emotional Sunday was," Gordon said. "When I got out of the car, it was my intention to get back in and drive to Victory Lane after waving to everyone in the stands. Our team certainly would not disrespect any procedures on purpose, and I truly apologize to everyone at the Speedway for any problems we may have caused. It was a classic case of being caught up in the moment. I plan to support NASCARís Victory Lane protocol moving forward." Car owner Rick Hendrick was called in to discuss the manuever with NASCAR following the race. "The Brickyard victory was one of the most special moments I've ever experienced in this sport," Hendrick said. "I really wanted to win that race and kiss the bricks to honor my father. It was an unbelievable feeling for all of us. Nonetheless, I owe an explanation to the George family, along with everyone at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The celebration was emotional, and it was fun to acknowledge the fans like that, but it became obvious that we had unintentionally disrupted the Speedway's program by not driving to Victory Lane after the checkered flag. Speaking for everyone at Hendrick Motorsports, I personally called Mary Hulman George on Monday to apologize for any actions that were perceived as being disrespectful."
Kings of Crunk
NEW YORK, N.Y. (August 13)- - One night after claiming a $500,000 payoff by winning the Brickyard 400, Jeff Gordon was merely a face in the crowd. New York nightspot Butter was packed Monday night with the likes of Nas, Talib Kweli, Andy Dick, Chloe Sevigny, Bubba Sparxxx, Penny Hardaway, Mobb Deep, Sean Lennon, and a host of others (including a four-time NASCAR champion), to help Lil Jon celebrate the national release of his energy drink, Crunk, and the launch of his signature Oakley eyewear line. The guest of honor made a grand entrance, jumping on top of the DJ table and ordering the crowd to party hard.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (August 13)- - Seth Meyers triumphed in the final of Celebrity Poker Showdown on Bravo. Meyers, an actor from Saturday Night Live, defeated rock star Dave Navarro to take the championship in the final round. Jeff Gordon was one of the five players in the finals, but was the first eliminated and spent most of the night in the backstage lounge watching the tournament unfold on television. Filmed before a live audience at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Meyers took away a $100,000 grand prize for The Jimmy Fund in Boston.
Celebrity Poker photos: Title game | Heat's on | Post-mortem
Night at the tables | Winning hand
Key moment | Silver chip winner
Battling Back At Pocono
BLAKESLEE, PA. (August 2)- - Jimmie Johnson dominated the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway by leading 124 of the 200 laps en route to a season sweep of both races at the 2.5-mile track. Johnson took the lead for the final time on lap 139 from Mark Martin and pulled away after a late race restart to claim his fourth win of the season and tenth of his career. He extended his lead in the points standings to 232 over Jeff Gordon who finished fifth.
Gordon's fifth place finish was not without an adventurous four hours in the Pocono Mountains. Gordon started 13th and worked his way up to fifth place by lap 9. He moved to third position on lap 22 before dropping a spot to Johnson. Gordon took the race lead after a round of pit stops when he passed Kurt Busch on lap 35. Seven laps later, Johnson took the top spot from Gordon. During two pit stops in the mid-stages, Gordon lost a significant amount of track position due to a chain linking problem on the chassis of the car. He restarted in 30th place on lap 104 after the crew examined the broken chain underneath the car. He was running in 19th on lap 108 when Tony Stewart hit the wall and came down the track. Gordon zoomed by on the inside an instant before Stewart's spinning car would have come into his path. Gordon gained track position during a round of pit stops on lap 119 by taking gas only. He took the race lead on lap 124 with a pass on Jeremy Mayfield. NASCAR scoring dropped him to third place after he faked coming down pit road under caution on lap 128 after Jeff Burton wrecked. His most harrowing moment came on lap 136 when the DuPont Chevrolet jumped sideways in turn two. Gordon eased off the throttle and was able to save the car. He dropped as far back as 9th before regrouping to make a forward charge. He moved up to sixth over the next 20 laps and held the spot after the final round of pit stops on lap 159. Gordon got around Terry Labonte for 5th place on lap 180 but was unable to close in on the drivers ahead of him. Nevertheless, Gordon's fifth consecutive top-five finish propelled him up to second in the points standings. "We had to fight a lot of things and overcome some hurdles," Gordon said. "The car was fast at the beginning and then the chain broke on the left rear. We couldn't get the left side up on the pit stops and we kept losing positions. Every time I went back in the field I'd just get tight and couldn't get back up to the front. I thought I lost it over in turn two, I don't know where that came from. The thing just got sideways on me going in there. So we'll be thankful for a top-five and go to Indy."
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