Stewart Rocks On The Road

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SONOMA, Calif. – Robby Gordon just can’t buy a break, and Tony Stewart wound up being the benefactor of Gordon’s misfortune Sunday.

Gordon, who ran out of gas just prior to the final lap of the 1999 Indianapolis 500 while leading the race, looked as if he’d cruise to his first career NASCAR Winston Cup victory Sunday in the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Sears Point Raceway.

But 12 laps prior to the finish, Gordon collided with the lapped car of Kevin Harvick, who was battling hard to get his lap back, and that allowed Stewart to go to the front for good on the 1.949-mile road course and earn his second victory of the 2001 season.

Gordon, who finished second, was trying to earn a little vengeance for himself. Earlier this season, he was fired as the driver of the No. 4 Morgan-McClure Motorsports Chevy. Because of his road-racing skills, he was hired to drive the No. 7 Ultra Motorsports Ford this weekend at Sears Point.

Gordon, however, refused to let Harvick get his lap back, and eventually the two got together and Stewart took advantage of the situation in Turn 7. Gordon was adamant about not allowing Harvick by him.

“It was unfortunate that Harvick was trying to get his lap back,” said Gordon, who recorded his best finish in 51 Winston Cup starts. “But that’s just racing. When you’re a racer and you can have a lapped car between you and second place, then you want to keep that lapped car there.

“I was waiting for our spotter to go down and cut a deal with Harvick’s team, and I thought since we were going to be teammates in a couple of weeks, they would have done that. But nothing happened. Again, it’s just racing.”

In early July, Harvick and Gordon will be both be part of the same team. Gordon will drive the No. 21 Chevy for Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Busch Series race at another road course, Watkins Glen International.

Harvick said he had no sympathy for Gordon not winning the race.

“I don’t feel sorry for him at all,” said Harvick, who finished 14th. “There was very little point in him keeping me behind him. I wasn’t a threat to him, and he’d have been better off letting me go. We got together and Tony got by him, and Tony seemed to have the better car late in the race. I don’t think Tony would have caught him if he’d have let me by, but we’ll never know.”

Stewart said he was very surprised Gordon didn’t allow Harvick to pass him in the late laps.

“I wasn’t laying back by any means, and I saw Kevin working hard to get by,” Stewart said. “We wanted to be as close as we could be just in case something did happen. I don’t know why Robby raced him as hard as he did. I’d have let him go because it was costing him time. There was just no point in holding him back. Had he let Kevin get by, I don’t know if we would have been able to catch him anyway.”

Pole winner Jeff Gordon, who had won the three previous races at Sears Point, finished third, followed by Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace, Ward Burton, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton, Bill Elliott and Mark Martin.

The victory was Stewart’s first on a road course in the Winston Cup Series and the 11th of his Winston Cup career.

Stewart said his car wasn’t as good early on, but on the last pit stop on Lap 83, his team made some necessary adjustments to push his No. 20 Pontiac to the front.

“The first segment of the race we were decent, but not as good as the 24 (Jeff Gordon) and the 7 (Robby Gordon),” Stewart said. “We got through the first round of pit stops and made changes, and we ended up making the wrong changes. At that point in the race I was just worried about where we were going to finish up.

“But we kept good track position and the car responded to the changes. It just came to life after the final pit stop. We were really fast after that.”

Robby Gordon took the lead from Jeff Gordon in Turn 11 on Lap 86. In the next two laps, he had opened up more than a one-second advantage, but late in the race ran into problems when the lapped car of Harvick, with fresher tires, hounded him for several laps.

When Harvick and Gordon got together twice, that allowed Stewart to go to the front. A full-course caution caused by a flat tire near the start-finish line by Ron Fellows slowed the field, and Gordon and Stewart allowed Harvick to get back on the lead lap.

The race restarted on Lap 105, and Gordon could not catch Stewart.

Dale Jarrett, who trailed Jeff Gordon by 36 points in the Winston Cup standings coming into Sunday’s race, finished a disappointing 26th and fell 126 points behind Gordon. Jarrett’s teammate, Rudd, is 145 points back of Gordon.

The No. 7 Ford, which has been driven by Mike Wallace the majority of the season, had not finished higher than sixth all season (Daytona). Wallace missed qualifying for two races in the span of a month before he was taken out of the car in favor of Ted Musgrave last week at Pocono.

“It was a very good day for us,” Robby Gordon said. “This was a one-race deal for us, but we had a really good car and the guys did an excellent job in the pits. I felt we definitely had the car to beat.”

Jeff Gordon, considering the fact he gained so many points on Jarrett, said he was happy to come out of Sunday’s race with a third-place finish.

“We got a good, solid finish, and that’s all I was asking for,” Gordon said. “But the car was tight all day long. I knew if we got behind anybody, we were going to be in trouble. But to come out of here with a third-place finish and to pick up as many points as we did is an awesome day. You can’t complain about that.”

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