Gordon Takes Win Points Lead

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BROOKLYN, Mich. – If there were any doubts whether Jeff Gordon was truly back in top form, they were obliterated Sunday afternoon. Gordon turned in his second straight dominating performance and raced to victory in the Kmart 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Gordon held off Ricky Rudd in a classic Winston Cup battle over the last two laps to win his third race of the season by .085 seconds. The victory was also the 100th for Hendrick Motorsports.

Despite a late-race pit stop miscue when he was forced to return to pit road to re-tighten two loose lug nuts, Gordon was able to run down the leaders to score his 55th career Winston Cup win. The win, coupled with Dale Jarrett’s 18th-place finish, gave Gordon the series point lead by 26 points.

Rudd, Sterling Marlin, Jeremy Mayfield and rookie Ryan Newman rounded out the Top 5. Hut Stricklin, Jeff Burton, Dave Blaney, Bill Elliott and Kevin Harvick completed the first ten.

“What can I say except that this was an absolutely awesome car today,” said Gordon, who started the day from pole. “You know, Ricky made a run at me and I thought, 'Man I just can’t let him get around me.' I never drove a car through the corners as hard as I did there in Turn 1 on that last lap. Ricky raced me very clean, he’s such a great driver, and we were able to hold him off from there.”

Despite being relegated to eighth place after his return to pit road, Gordon rocketed his DuPont Chevy through the field in heart-stopping fashion. The day’s eighth caution of the day on Lap 188 for a John Andretti-Robert Pressley crash in Turn 2 tightened the field. On the Lap 194 restart, Gordon jumped to the top spot with Rudd in hot pursuit. Another caution one lap later for Shawna Robinson's spin again slowed the field, until the green flew for good on Lap 197. Gordon and Rudd ran side by side over the final two laps as the capacity crown of 140,000 stood on its feet before Gordon finally squeezed by to collect the checkered flag.

“I just couldn’t get my car to stay low and he had a lot of momentum carrying into Turn 1,’ Rudd said. “Once he got that run, there wasn’t much I could do, but we were thrilled with how well this Texaco Havoline Ford ran today.”

Gordon’s win came fresh off his dominating run at Dover last weekend where he led all but 19 of the 400 laps. He continued his strong performance in the first half today and was never seriously challenged for the lead under green-flag conditions through Lap 125.

Marlin turned in a strong performance in his Coors Light Dodge and held the lead with fewer than 30 laps to go, but eventually was run down by Gordon and Rudd.

"It was a good run, but we didn't have enough for the 24 or the 28 car," Marlin said. "We ran well today and want to take this with us to Pocono. It would have been sweet to get the first Dodge victory here in Michigan, but we're happy with the run and look forward to coming back here in August."

It was an impressive day for rookie Newman, who recorded his highest Winston Cup finish. Originally scheduled to run Saturday's ARCA race at Michigan, car owner Roger Penske decided to instead enter the rookie in the Kmart 400.

"It was a great day for us and I hope I proved to myself and my team that I can get the job done," said Newman, who won the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte two weeks ago only to spin early in the race. "What happened at Charlotte was a rookie mistake, but I know that I have the ability and the car to do well on a consistent basis here in Winston Cup. I can't wait for our next start."

The race got off to an auspicious start with a number of yellows in the first 25 laps. Jimmy Spencer brought out the first caution when he scraped the wall in Turn 2. Five laps later, rookie Kurt Busch crashed his Roush Racing Ford in the exact same spot with Bobby Labonte and Jarrett spinning to avoid contact. Labonte and Jarrett continued while Busch was retired for the day.

Rusty Wallace saw his hopes for another Michigan victory go away when Todd Bodine made contact with his Miller Lite Ford, sending him hard into the Turn 3 wall.

“I don’t know what the kid was thinking,” Wallace said. “He drove right into the back of me and that was that.”

Bodine had his own encounter with the wall on Lap 39 when a left-front tire blowout sent him into the wall.

The Winston Cup Series now heads to Pennsylvania’s Pocono International Raceway for next Sunday’s Pocono 500.

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