Gordon refuses to pack it in
It's not in Jeff Gordon's nature to go slow, and asking the four-time series champion to ride aimlessly around in the back of the pack is unheard of.
But with all the unknowns surrounding yesterday's race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, it seemed to be the safest strategy. Still, he resisted, and even told car owner Rick Hendrick he wouldn't do it.
He apparently had a change of heart, agreeing to turn parade laps for much of the race before surging past Jimmie Johnson on the final lap and holding off his teammate to become the career victory leader at restrictor-plate tracks.
"It was the hardest race I've ever had to be in. I've never had that type of mind-set before," Gordon said. "I've never done that before. I even told Rick Hendrick earlier in the week that some guys were talking about that strategy, and I can't do it - I think we've got to get out there and race and let the chips fall where they may.
"I changed that . . . and it was tough because I don't like just going out there and riding in the back. I want to be out there battling for the lead and leading laps."
He parlayed his decision into his 12th career restrictor-plate win and fifth victory this season, and moved back on top of the points standings. He leads Johnson by nine points with six races remaining in the Chase for the championship.
But it was a bizarre way to do it by Gordon's standards.
Fears over the Car of Tomorrow's plate debut and former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve's first Nextel Cup event had the entire field concerned the race would be one big demolition derby.
So Gordon decided he'd avoid the mess by staying in the back, and found himself yawning in his race car for the first time in his career.
Gordon had a horrible qualifying effort - he started 34th - and it put him at the back. He then suffered a late-race setback when he pulled out of his pit with a hose hanging from his car, earning a penalty that seemed to take him out of contention.
But Gordon, a master at working the draft, eventually marched toward the front.
With six laps to go, he was in the middle of a Hendrick Motorsports charge in which Johnson, Gordon, and Casey Mears surged to the front.
Gordon was stuck behind Johnson, though, and waited until the last lap to make a move toward the front. He finally jumped up high, squeezing between Johnson and the Penske cars of Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch.
Just as Johnson tried to block him, two-time series champion Tony Stewart slid onto Gordon's bumper and gave him a huge push into the lead. Gordon led just one lap - the last one - to complete a season sweep at Talladega.
Dave Blaney was third in the best finish this year for a
This race blew open the Chase for the championship standings, as Gordon and Johnson positioned themselves for a Hendrick battle toward the title. Third-place driver Clint Bowyer finished 11th and fell 63 points behind the leader.
Formula One - Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari won the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai and Lewis Hamilton of McLaren missed his chance to clinch the title by spinning out entering the pits.
Fernando Alonso of McLaren was second and Felipe Massa of Ferrari finished third.
Hamilton ran off the track and into a gravel trap while entering pit lane after 31 laps.
The championship will go down to the final race in Brazil Oct. 21 with three drivers capable of winning the title. Hamilton has 107 points, Alonso has 103 and Raikkonen 100. A win is worth 10 points and second is worth eight.