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Cloudy Day In The Desert


AVONDALE, AZ.- - Dale Earnhardt Jr passed Jeff Gordon with nine laps remaining to win the Checker 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. In winning at Phoenix for the second consecutive season, Earnhardt Jr closed to within 47 points of leader Kurt Busch who finished 10th. Gordon's day looked to be stuck in neutral at the outset as he dropped from his 8th starting position back to 15th. In what seems like a continuing theme, Gordon battled handling problems early in the race. However, a two-tire pit stop on lap 105 vaulted him up to 2nd place. He took the lead from Elliott Sadler on lap 125 and remained there until a caution flag on lap 143. Gordon dropped to 12th due to other staying on the track when he pitted. He received a break of good fortune after a long green flag run on lap 225. Just as he finished his pit stop, Terry Labonte spun off turn four to bring out the caution. He was able to remain on the lead lap and inherited the lead when the top runners came to pit road. In clean air, the DuPont Chevrolet was a different animal compared to when it was mired in race traffic. Gordon pulled away but a late caution with 30 laps to go for Matt Kenseth's blown engine bunched the field. On fresher tires, Earnhardt Jr was able to make the winning pass on Gordon. On the final lap, Ryan Newman was able to pull inside of Gordon to take second place. Gordon finished third-- his best career finish at the track-- and moved up to second in the points standings. He trails Busch by 41 points with just two races remaining. Earnhardt Jr is 47 behind, with Jimmie Johnson 48 points in arrears. Two races to go; no margin for error. It's all or nothing at Darlington and Homestead.


Jeff's Post-Race Press Conference

JG: "We needed it to go green the whole way. It was great pit strategy by Robbie Loomis because I didn't think we had any shot at winning this race today. We got out of sequence that paid off for us and we came home third. I thought I could hold off Ryan (Newman) there at the end. I got real tight off of Turn 2 and he got a run on me and there wasn't anything I could do. I tried to race him on the outside, but we'll take third today."

YOU SEEMED TO HAVE A LITTLE TRACK POSITION BATTLE WITH KEVIN HARVICK THERE FOR A WHILE. WHAT WAS THAT ALL ABOUT?
JG: "You'll have to go ask him. I have no idea. I think he took his frustration out. His car wasn't that good right then and I think he took it out on me because I felt like I passed him pretty clean. I had to slide up in front of him a little bit off of Turn 4, but he just pounded me all the way down the front straight. He pounded me into Turn 1 and about wrecked me there. And it was kind of on from that point. My car wasn't the same after that and so it kind of cost both of us. But we're going to forget about that and work our way back up to the front or keep the car up at the front hopefully."

WERE YOU HAVING HANDLING PROBLEMS EARLY ON?
JG: "We certainly didn't start out the way we wanted to. We got real loose. We made some adjustments there, but we didn't have track position. So now we've got track position and we'll see if we can hold on with these two tires and get the car where we need to be. But I feel like we're making gains on it. The track is changing quite a bit as we go here."

THIS YEAR, YOU SEEM TO GO FROM HAVING A BAD WEEK TO A TOP FIVE AND A WINNING RUN THE NEXT WEEK. IT LOOKS LIKE YOU'RE ON THAT PATH AGAIN.
JG: "Yeah, well we really run good everywhere we go, which is something we hadn't done in the past. And that really gives me a lot of confidence in the team. And we've got a lot of guys - a couple of them are wanting to get off the road - and hopefully we can get people in there that are as good as they were next year and keep the team as competitive as it is now. I'm just really proud of the year we've had and hopefully we can finish it off with a win or two over the next three weekends."

ON DRIVERS NOT PITTING BECAUSE OF THE UNCERTAINY OF THE RAIN SITUATION WHEN THEY NORMALLY WOULD PIT
JG: "We weren't going to pit no matter what. Anybody who had track position was going to stay out. The rain just really solidified the fact that we were going to stay out. I don't know what we would have done if we were further back. It just depends on where you were. Track position was so important today. It was so hard to pass. I really knew we were a sitting duck. The No. 8 car was so strong. On that long run when we were leading, I saw him in my mirror coming and I knew I had used up all the tires. I was pretty loose at that point. And there at the end, I wanted it to rain, actually. And then he got underneath me and there was nothing I could do to keep him behind me."

ON KURT BUSCH STAYING IN THE LEAD FOR THE PAST FEW WEEKS
JG: "We don't mind chipping away at it. The final outcome is what we're looking for in Homestead. I've been in positions where we've been out front pulling away and you just see it being knocked away. It's tough. It's frustrating. They're doing a good job. They're finishing good. They had their troubles last week. But they're racing hard. Today was a 'must finish ahead of those guys' day. We came into the day saying we have to win. But we finished third and we made gains. It was a good day for us. Anything you can do to break the momentum of the guys in front of you is what you want to do."

ON TRYING TO GET THE SET-UP BETTER AT THAT START OF THE RACE
JG: "We were loose again. Again, we started off tight and about 10 laps into it. Of course it didn't help what happened with me and Harvick. That loosened me up a lot. I just couldn't get it back. I got loose getting in and getting off. We did a ton to tighten that car up and it was still loose at the end of the race. I was happy with the car for the most part, but we still have to get a little bit better at the start of the race."

ON DALE JR'S 25 POINT PENALTY AT THIS POINT IN THE SEASON
JG: "It doesn't matter what we look at right now. It's really after Homestead. If he looses it by less than 25 points, you guys will have a lot to talk about. Until then, I think it's got to be a forgotten issue. He's got to move on. It doesn't mean we agree with it or disagree with it. I don't know if penalties need to be made in points like that. But if they want to fine somebody, they need to fine somebody. But I hope that one of us wins it by more than 25 points so it's a non-issue - or he wins it. I don't think it needs to draw too much attention and hopefully it won't."

WHAT KIND OF RACING DO YOU EXPECT TO SEE IN THE NEXT TWO WEEKS?
JG: "Aggressive, hard racing. On one hand, you've got guy who've got to be careful. I kind of like the position I'm in right now because the No. 97 has to be more cautious than I do. So it's not a bad position to be in. But just like when we let up to Richmond getting into the Chase, it gets intense. Anybody who has a shot at it is going to be on edge and feel more pressure. They're going to be driving aggressive or they're going to be thinking about it too much and make a mistake."




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