Wild Weekend At Talladega

The Winston 500 weekend at Talladega Superspeedway saw a number of highs and lows. While Saturday was a day to forget for Jeff Gordon, Sunday was a racing spectacle that will be remembered for years to come.

Friday, October 14
The DuPont Chevrolet is fast right off the truck and turned the 12th fastest lap in Friday's practice session. Jeff Gordon qualifies 8th for Sunday's race.

Saturday, October 15
Earlier this season at Talladega, Gordon started 36th and worked his way through race traffic to win his 50th career race. To claim the bonus, he'll have to come from even further back in Sunday's race. He would have started 8th but an eventful Saturday at Talladega has relegated him to the last starting spot of 43rd. In the morning practice session, Gordon was went low on the track and damaged the front of the DuPont Chevrolet after hitting orange cones at the exit to pit road. The crew worked on the front end and repaired the damage with tape. However, that would be a prelude of things to come. In the final practice session, Gordon was running behind Dale Jarrett in a tight draft when the left front shock broke on the car. As Gordon fought to control the car, the shock sheared away the sheet metal surrounding the left front tire. Realizing there would not be enough time to make repairs, the crew unloaded the backup car and Gordon was able to turn several laps at the end of the practice session. The backup car that Gordon will race on Sunday is the one that he took to victory at Talladega in April. After testing at Daytona earlier this month, the crew elected to use the car that Gordon drove in the Daytona 500 as the primary car for Talladega. "The backup car is good," Gordon said. "The biggest problem is not the car but starting in the back. It'll be plenty fast enough to run up front. The problem is I'm starting so far in the back." Adding more intrigue into the equation was NASCAR's decision to change the size of the restrictor plate from one inch to 15/16 of an inch in an effort to slow the speeds even further.

Sunday, October 15
Raceday was one that won't soon be forgotten. For awhile it looked as if Gordon might pull off the impossible- winning from the 43rd starting position. He was relegated to starting dead last in the field after a broken left front shock sheared away the sheet metal on the left front of the car during Saturday's final practice session. Gordon might have started last but he didn't stay there for long. By lap 6 he had moved up to 15th position. Seven laps leader he put the DuPont Chevrolet into the lead with drafting help from Jerry Nadeau.
As is usually the case at Talladega, Gordon spent a good portion of the day moving through traffic only to be shuffled back in the draft. With drafting help from Mike Skinner, he took the lead on lap 27. Seven laps later he had been shuffled back to 24th. That's Talladega in a nutshell. After the first round of pit stops on lap 50, he moved up to 13th in a tight draft with Kenny Wallace and Nadeau on the high side of the track. Five laps later, Gordon pulled into the lead with drafting help from Ken Schrader and Nadeau. He lost the lead a few laps later and came in for the second pit stop of the day on lap 99. After the pit cycle completed, Gordon found himself up front. The first caution waved shortly thereafter for Dave Marcis' blown engine. On the restart, Gordon was shuffled back to 11th.
He fell back to 15th a few laps later but drafted up to 6th on lap 132 with some help from Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt Jr. On lap 156, he had moved up to third running behind Ken Schrader and Terry Labonte- just like old times for a few laps. On lap 160 he made a move for the lead and took the top spot with drafting help from Johnny Benson. However, he was shuffled to 9th just five laps later. As Gordon peeled off the track to come in for his final pit stop, trouble started behind him. Mark Martin and Bobby Hamilton had made contact and were spinning. Gordon slowed dramatically to obey the pit road speed and was nearly clipped by Martin's spinning car. The caution waved and due to the time of the stop, Gordon had the lead on the restart with 14 laps remaining.
Within a lap of the restart, Gordon was shuffled back to 14th as Mike Skinner and Dale Earnhardt Jr. battled for the lead. With 11 laps remaining, he found himself battling race traffic mired in 12th position. As Dale Earnhardt drafted with Kenny Wallace on the high side of the track to take the lead with two laps remaining, Gordon snuck in behind and pulled up to 4th place. That would be as far as he would advance as he came across the line in 4th behind Earnhardt, Wallace, and Nemechek. "I'd say those last 15 laps were the most horrifying and the most exciting I've ever run in my life," Gordon said. "I put the 24 car in spots I've never put it before. You had to use the middle groove. That's the craziest thing I've ever seen."
Earnhardt is perhaps the most vocal critic of NASCAR's restrictor plate rules. However, nobody drives restrictor plate races better than Earnhardt. He added another chapter to his legendary status in winning the Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, his third victory in the last four races at the 2.66-mile track. Earnhardt led several times throughout the event but was shuffled back after the final round of pit stops. He was mired in 18th position with just five laps to go but hooked up in a draft with Kenny Wallace and Joe Nemechek to move through traffic. He passed Mike Skinner for the lead using the high line with 2 laps remaining. He held on to win his second race of the season, 76th career race, and tenth win at Talladega. In addition, he collected the $1 million bonus as part of the No Bull Five program for the first time in his storied career. Earnhardt's win at Talladega was a vintage performance by a master tactician.

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