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Jeff Wins The Winston Cup


HAMPTON, GA.- - Jeff Gordon clinched his fourth Winston Cup championship with a sixth place finish in the NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Gordon was strong in the first 150 miles, but faded from contention as the race progressed. In the closing stages, Jerry Nadeau passed Bobby Labonte for the lead with 20 laps remaining. However, Nadeau ran out of gas on the backstretch on the final lap and coasted to the finish in fourth place. Labonte won his second race of the season and 18th race of his career passing the coasting car of Nadeau coming off of turn four.

Out Of A Cannon

Gordon started in 24th but made his way through race traffic relatively quickly. By lap 10 he had moved up to 15th. Five laps later the caution flag waved when Carl Long spun on the backstretch. Long, a novice in Winston Cup racing, got loose when Bobby Labonte came up behind and took the air off of his spoiler. Long looped his car around and nearly eliminated the eventual race winner in the process. Pit stops followed and Gordon gained four spots on pit road. He moved into the top 10 on lap 23 and moved into the top 5 on lap 27 with a daring pass on Todd Bodine coming off turn four. On lap 32 he passed Dave Blaney on the outside in turn two to take fourth place and passed Bill Elliott coming off turn four to take over third position. He closed in on race leaders Dale Earnhardt Jr and Tony Stewart. Gordon took over the runner-up spot with a pass on Stewart on lap 36. Five laps later he passed Earnhardt Jr for the top spot using the high line in turn three. He led for nearly 40 laps but slipped back to third on lap 73 when Earnhardt Jr and Ricky Craven passed.

Handling Issues

While Gordon raced at the front of the field, his nearest challenger in the Winston Cup standings was struggling. Ricky Rudd went a lap down battling an ill handling car and was running 26th after green flag pit stops during laps 75-80. After pit stops Gordon was running second behind Stewart. He dropped to fourth when Earnhardt Jr and Craven passed on lap 97 after Gordon got hung up behind the lapped car of Lance Hooper entering turn one. He retook third place from Stewart just before Hooper's engine expired. Pit stops followed and Gordon narrowly avoided contact with Ricky Craven exiting pit road. After the restart, the caution came out for Dave Blaney's blown engine on lap 120. The handling on the DuPont Chevrolet began to go away as the car became tight. Bobby Labonte passed on lap 141 and Gordon faded to 9th by lap 150. Twenty laps later he fell to 10th. Green flag pit stops came during laps 180-185. Gordon returned to the track in 10th.

Long May You Run

Over the final 125 laps, Gordon ran between 8th and 10th. At the front of the field, Jerry Nadeau, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Bobby Labonte battled for the top spot. Labonte took the lead from Earnhardt Jr with 32 laps remaining. Twelve laps later Nadeau passed Labonte at the start-finish line. With six laps remaining, Gordon closed in on Dale Jarrett and Earnhardt Jr. He passed Jarrett at the start-finish line and Earnhardt Jr in turn three to move up to 6th place. Meanwhile, Nadeau pulled out to a comfortable lead as the white flag waved. On the backstretch he brought the UAW-Delphi Chevrolet to the inside as the car had run out of gas. Labonte thundered past in turn four to take the victory. Sterling Marlin and Kevin Harvick also passed Nadeau before he coasted across the finish line.

As Labonte pulled into victory lane, Gordon stopped in front of the stage set up at the start-finish line to celebrate his fourth championship. From rainbows to flames the end result is the same: Glory.


Notes:
-Kevin Harvick won at Atlanta in March in a last lap duel with Jeff Gordon which was reminiscent of Dale Earnhardt's victory at the track in March 2000. How did Harvick do in November? Position #3.
-DuPont team tire carriers Steve Letarte and Craig Curione wore helmets at Atlanta. Tire changers Todd Gantt and Shane Church did not.
-Hut Stricklin finished 11th in his first race in the #23 Dodge for Bill Davis Racing. Stricklin will be in that car full time in 2002.
-Jimmie Johnson's third Winston Cup race in the Lowe's Chevrolet co-owned by Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick resulted in a 29th place finish, three laps off the pace.
-Ricky Rudd finished 35th after cutting a tire with 60 laps remaining. He fell to third in the point standings behind Tony Stewart who finished 9th at Atlanta.
-Ricky Craven led some of the early laps and looked to be a contender for the victory but transmission trouble eliminated him from contention on lap 268.
-Jeff Burton quietly finished 10th. In the second half of the 2001 season (beginning with the Pepsi 400 in July), only Jeff Gordon has accumulated more points than Burton.
-Dale Jarrett was the highest finishing Ford coming home in 8th.





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