This One's For Matt

KANSAS CITY, KS. - - Before strapping into his car for the inaugural Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway, Jeff Gordon had an important meeting. Matt Dahl, the 15-year-old son of United Airlines pilot Jason Dahl, and his grandfather met with Gordon before the race. His father was the pilot of the airliner that was hijacked by terrorists and crashed September 11 in Pennsylvania. Matt's father had made plans to attend the race with his son the night before his untimely death. Rob Quillen was a passenger on a flight with Jason Dahl on September 10, and the two discussed a shared a devotion to NASCAR and Gordon. Quillen posed a hypothetical question to the Dahl and asked what was the one thing he wished he could do. When Dahl explained that he'd like to meet Jeff Gordon with his son and watch him race, Quillen acted. He offered the pilot a pair of tickets for the Kansas race. After September 11, Quillen wrote to the Dahl family and Gordon explaining the situation. Gordon agreed to fulfill Matt Dahl's desire to meet the three-time Winston Cup champion.

Matt Dahl attended the pre-race driver's meeting with Gordon but had to leave the track before the end of the race to head back home. In the midst of what has undoubtedly been the toughest month of Matt Dahl's life, one part of his wish came true. Sadly, the other part of his wish couldn't happen. Someone was missing.

After exiting his car in victory lane at Kansas Speedway, Gordon paused for a moment when he was asked about Matt being with him at the driver's meeting earlier in the day. "It was very special and this one's for Matt," Gordon said. "He wanted to be here but he had to go home. I showed him where victory lane was earlier and I didn't know if I was going to be here. But he said 'Well, go out there and do it anyway for me. We'd love that.' He's a strong and great kid and we were really happy to have him with us here today."

Inauspicious Start

The inaugural Protection One 400 got off to a less than stellar start with a wreck entering the first turn on lap 1. Flashbacks of the first race at Texas Motor Speedway in 1997 probably flashed through more than a few minds as Casey Atwood spun up the track and collected John Andretti and Ricky Craven. Polesitter Jason Leffler led from the outset but lost the top spot to Jeff Gordon on lap 9. As Gordon pulled ahead of Leffler, Buckshot Jones spun coming off turn two after contact with Sterling Marlin and hit the wall. On the restart, Bill Elliott passed Leffler and closed in on Gordon for the lead. He put the #9 Dodge in front on lap 22. Gordon settled in to the runner up position over the next 30 laps.

Yellow Flag Daze

The third caution of the day came on lap 50 when Jimmy Spencer brushed the wall. Gordon came onto pit road in 2nd position and left in the same spot after a 16.5 second four tire change. Just after the restart he took the lead from Elliott as Ricky Rudd moved up to 2nd. Rudd inched ahead of Gordon at the start-finish line to lead lap 57 before Gordon used the high line in turn one to retake the top spot. Two laps later Kurt Busch spun onto the infield grass. Racing to the caution flag, Rudd took the lead from Gordon. After the restart on lap 65, Matt Kenseth passed Rudd to get back on the lead lap. When Rudd moved up the track, Gordon followed Kenseth past to retake the lead. Four laps later Jerry Nadeau hit Ward Burton entering turn one. Burton spun and collected Todd Bodine. After exiting his Dodge, Burton threw his foot shields at Nadeau's Chevrolet. On the restart on lap 79, Gordon skirted up the track and opened the door for Rusty Wallace and Bill Elliott to pass. Two laps later Stacey Compton spun in turn two to bring out the caution. Following the restart, a green flag stretch began.

Engines and Tires

Gordon came onto pit road for a green flag pit stop on lap 117. A 14.6 second pit stop followed. On lap 135 Bill Elliott burned a piston and went behind the wall. He dropped oil on the track necessitating another caution period. Gordon came onto pit road and changed two tires to gain track position and moved up to 4th. He remained in 4th for the next 30 laps before Johnny Benson's engine expired on lap 184. Under the caution flag, the lead lap cars came onto pit road. Gordon left in 3rd position after a four tire change. The ninth caution of the day waved when Dave Blaney and Michael Waltrip wrecked coming off turn four. On the restart on lap 196, Gordon passed Nadeau to take the runner up spot and closed in on Wallace for the race lead.

Power Play

With 43 laps remaining, Gordon pulled alongside Wallace on the backstretch but Wallace held on to the top spot using the high line in turns three and four. Five laps later the caution waved when Dale Earnhardt Jr cut a tire and slammed the wall in turn one. Earnhardt Jr was running fourth at the time. Pit stops followed with some teams electing to forgo tires and take gas only. Gordon changed two tires and left pit road in 6th place. He moved up to 5th when Wallace was penalized for speeding on pit road. On the restart with 32 laps to go, Rudd was leading followed by Mark Martin, Marlin, Kenseth, and Gordon. Entering turn one, Gordon ducked low to pass Marlin and got by Kenseth in turn three. Two laps later Kenseth slammed the wall on the frontstretch after cutting a tire. With all the discussion about seat belts this season, it seems that tire failures have been almost overlooked as the root cause of a number of hard crashes.


On the restart with 23 laps remaining, Martin pulled low to pass Rudd for the top spot. Gordon followed Martin past Rudd and then ducked low coming off turn four to pass Martin at the start-finish line. Two laps later, Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett crashed hard in turn one. Labonte drove behind the wall while Jarrett exited the car under his own power. He was flown to a Kansas City hospital for precautionary x-rays. The restart with 12 laps remaining was a short lived affair as Jason Leffler and Terry Labonte crashed one lap later. NASCAR elected to red flag the race for 15 minutes while the track was cleaned up. The final restart came with 6 laps to go. Ryan Newman made a strong move off turn two to pass Ricky Rudd and closed in on Gordon for the top spot. However, he couldn't get to Gordon's back bumper to loosen up the DuPont Chevrolet. Gordon held off Newman to win his 6th race of the season and 58th of his career. It was his third victory in inaugural WC events at new tracks having won in 1994 at Indianapolis and 1997 at California. He extended his lead in the series points standings to 222 over Rudd who finished third.

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