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2001: Back In The High Life Again


Season Recap

When longtime crew chief Ray Evernham left Jeff Gordon in 1999 to start his own raceteam, some predicted that Gordon's days of winning Winston Cup titles were over. In 2001, Gordon proved that while Evernham was a key ingredient in his title seasons, he wasn't the only one. After a rebuilding season in 2000, Gordon, crew chief Robbie Loomis, and team manager Brian Whitesell came out with something to prove in 2001.
The season-opening Daytona 500 saw Gordon run up front for most of the day but he was engulfed in the multi-car wreck on lap 177 and finished 30th. The NASCAR world was reeling following the death of Dale Earnhardt on the final lap of the event, but the teams focused on the job at hand and went to Rockingham. It was here that Gordon displayed the brilliance that hinted at a possible title run. He won the pole position, led the most laps, and finished third. The following week at Las Vegas he qualified 24th. However, Loomis adjusted on the car throughout the race and Gordon pulled into victory lane. The win was an early season confidence booster. In addition, it moved Gordon up to second in the series points standings. The team's confidence grew stronger the following week at Atlanta. Gordon finished second to Kevin Harvick-- by 0.006 second, the closest finish in NASCAR history. The runner-up finish thrust Gordon into the series point lead for the first time since February 1999.
After winning the pole position at Darlington, a cracked cylinder head in the engine forced Gordon out of the race. He finished 40th but rebounded with a fourth place finish at Bristol and a fifth place finish at Texas-- his first career top 10 finish at Texas. At Martinsville, Gordon won the pole position but faded late in the race and finished 12th. A 27th place finish in the caution-free Talladega 500 followed. Gordon rebounded nicely with back to back runner-up finishes at California Speedway and Richmond International Raceway. The latter after a late race bumping match with Rusty Wallace.
In The Winston exhibition race, Gordon crashed in the rain on the first lap but made good use of NASCAR's decision to allow teams to go to back-up cars. When racing began, Gordon made his way to the front and won The Winston for the third time. A pit road incident in the Coca-Cola 600 damaged the aerodynamics and resulted in a 29th place finish to close out the month of May. As the weather warmed up in June, so did Gordon's on-track performance. A dominating victory at Dover was followed up by a dramatic win at Michigan-- the 100th victory for Hendrick Motorsports. Ricky Rudd passed Gordon for the lead coming to the white flag but Gordon re-took the top spot entering turn one and never looked back. He took over the points lead with the victory. A second place finish at Pocono and a third place finish at Sears Point widened the gap as the series headed to Daytona.
In dramatic fashion, Dale Earnhardt Jr won the Pepsi 400. Gordon broke an oil line late in the event and finished 37th. A week later he dropped a cylinder late in the Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway and finished 17th. Dale Jarrett took over the points lead with a victory at New Hampshire while Gordon finished second. However, the following week at Pocono Gordon re-took the top spot in the series standings with an 8th place finish after Jarrett crashed. Gordon would not lose the spot for the remainder of the season.
Gordon passed Sterling Marlin on a late race restart to win the Brickyard 400 for the third time. At Watkins Glen he made a daring pass on Jeff Burton in the inner loop to make it back to back victories. A seventh place finish in the rain-shortened Michigan race was followed by a third place effort at Bristol and a runner-up finish at Darlington on Labor Day weekend. His points lead had swelled to more than 300-- it was Jeff Gordon's title to lose at that point.
At Richmond, contact with Sterling Marlin sent Gordon into the wall early in the event. Combined with Ricky Rudd's victory and Gordon's 36th place finish, the points gap narrowed. The September 11 terrorist attacks turned everything upside down. Racing was cancelled under September 23 as the nation attended to matters that meant more than a car race.
Earnhardt Jr won an emotional race at Dover while Gordon finished a solid fourth. His last top five of the season came the following week at Kansas City as Gordon won the inaugural Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway.
As the season drew to a close, Gordon seemed to struggle down the stretch. A 16th place finish at Charlotte was followed by a ninth place finish at Martinsville. At Talladega, Gordon somehow drove through the last lap wreck to finish seventh. After Rudd suffered heavy damage in the wreck, the engraver probably began etching "Jeff Gordon" onto the 2001 Winston Cup championship trophy. Though Gordon's finish were relatively ordinary-- 6th at Phoenix, 25th at Rockingham, and 28th at Homestead, his challengers weren't gaining enough ground. He clinched the title with a sixth place finish at Atlanta. With the title wrapped up, the series headed to Loudon, New Hampshire for the final event. Gordon was bumped out of the lead in the closing stages by Robby Gordon and finished 15th after a brief penalty for hitting Robby under caution. An odd way to close out a title season, but it was an odd season all around.
With six victories and 18 top five finishes, Gordon claimed his fourth championship. It was a year that started with the loss of Dale Earnhardt. It was interrupted by the events of September 11. And it concluded with Jeff Gordon standing on the stage at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel as the 2001 Winston Cup champion.
When Evernham, chief mechanic Ed Guzzo, lead fabricator Bill Deese, and the "Rainbow Warrior" pit crew departed in 1999, Jeff Gordon was left to pick up the pieces. In 2000, the DuPont team was a new unit-- they had a new crew chief and new pit crew. Communication and chemistry took time. In 2001, the team came out of the box focused and ready for the task at hand. Leading laps wasn't enough-- they wanted to lead the most laps. The group of new faces at the start of the 2000 season was a tightly woven team by the start of the 2001 season. In 2001, the DuPont team had something to prove. They proved that all the doors that closed one time will open up again. Back in the high life again.


RaceStartFinishPts Position
Daytona 500133029
Dura Lube 400137
UAW-DaimlerChrysler 4002412
Atlanta 500221
Carolina Dodge Dealers 4001404
Food City 5001542
Harrah's 500952
Virginia 5001122
Talladega 50013272
NAPA Auto Parts 5001722
Pontiac Excitement 400622
Coca-Cola 6002292
MBNA Platinum 400212
Kmart 400111
Pocono 5001421
Save Mart 350131
Pepsi 4005371
Tropicana 40028171
New England 300122
Pennsylvania 500881
Brickyard 4002711
Global at the Glen1311
Pepsi 4001371
Sharpie 500631
Southern 500221
Chevrolet 4001361
Cal Ripken Jr 4002341
Protection One 400211
UAW-GM Quality 50020161
Old Dominion 500391
EA Sports 5001171
Checker Auto Parts 5001461
Pop Secret 4008251
Pennzoil 40011281
NAPA 5002461*
New Hampshire 3001151
*Clinched Winston Cup title

6 wins. Winston Cup champion
UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400
MBNA Platinum 400
Kmart 400
Brickyard 400
Global at the Glen
Protection One 400


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