Elliott Returns To Victory Lane

10980Jpg
HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Jeff Gordon’s Winston Cup championship celebration will have to wait another week.

The victory party for Ray Evernham and Bill Elliott, however, waits no more. Elliott passed teammate Casey Atwood with four laps to go Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway to win the Pennzoil Freedom 400, his first victory since the Southern 500 in 1994.

“I was beginning to think Ray didn’t make a very good decision,” Elliott said of Evernham hiring him. “It’s like Rusty (Wallace) said. You get to the point you think you could never win another race. He says, ‘You’ve just go to keep believing in yourself.’

“It ain’t I. It’s we. We’ve worked hard, we’ve been on the bottom a lot of times this year. We kept struggling back. Things have gone not the way I really wanted it to go. To come down here and sit on the pole and win this event was fantastic.”

And it certainly is the highlight of what had been a difficult season for Evernham Motorsports.

“I certainly wasn’t getting impatient,” Evernham said. “Some days you get frustrated when you miss it pretty bad. We’ve missed it pretty bad at a couple of race tracks this year. I could see the progress, and I just kept telling myself that some day everything was going to come together. This weekend was one of those weekends.”

But Elliott and Evernham were only part of the story Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Ricky Rudd, the man closest to Gordon in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship race, had to block out a scary pit road incident to finish 21st. Tony Stewart, the two-time defending champion of the race who appeared to have the strongest car, faded in the closing laps, got a penalty for cutting across the grass heading to pit road and finished 19th.

But while those drivers were on an emotional downturn, Elliott was all smiles Sunday after winning his first race of the season and getting the first victory as a Winston Cup car owner for Evernham.

Michael Waltrip passed Atwood with two laps to go for second place, with Atwood ending up third. Jeff Burton finished fourth, with Sterling Marlin fifth. Dave Blaney was sixth, followed by Kevin Harvick, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Green and Jason Leffler.

Five of the Top 10 – Elliott, Atwood, Marlin, Blaney and Leffler – were in Dodge Intrepids.

Gordon needed to leave Homestead with a 380-point lead to clinch the title, but after an incident on pit road damaged his car, Gordon struggled and finished 28th.

Rudd gained 21 points Sunday, but still trails by 305 points, meaning all Gordon has to do is start the final two races to clinch his fourth Winston Cup title.

“Clinching it early is not my goal,” Gordon said. “My goal is to win the championship and win races. I’m just disappointed that we had such a good car and such a good run going, and we lost that valuable track position.”

The race was marred by an incident on pit road which injured three Rudd crewmen, one seriously. Front-tire changer Bobby Burrell was hit by Ward Burton’s car – which bounced off Atwood’s car and into Rudd’s pit stall – and sustained a head injury. Burrell was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, where he was awake, but listed in serious condition.

Rudd’s team was initially stunned by the incident, and Rudd’s slim title hopes appeared to evaporate. After a second pit stop, Rudd dropped back to 26th place.

But he charged back through the field, and after a yellow-flag pit stop on Lap 148, Rudd found himself in third.

“We missed out setup early in the race,” Rudd said. “After the incident on pit road, our heart just wasn’t in it.”

Gordon, who ran in the Top 5 for the first half of the race, made contact with Green on pit road and damaged his left-front fender.

In an incident similar to the one involving Atwood and Burton, Green moved to the middle lane in front of Gordon, who couldn’t turn right and avoid Green’s car. Gordon’s fender was caved in, and he had to make another pit stop to have the crew pull it out.

“It’s really my fault,” Gordon said. “We had trouble with the 31 all day long with the way they were pitting. I just couldn’t get around him, and it was stalling me up when I took off. That one stalled me a little bit more, and I got in the outside of him, and he came up and we just got together.

“It’s just like Charlotte in May. It just ruined our day. It put us in the back. We fixed the fender, but the car was just never the same. It’s a shame because we really had something for them, especially on the long runs.”

On a restart on Lap 178, Gordon was 17th, but he soon faded outside the Top 25.

Stewart and Harvick put on a good duel for the lead, albeit a brief one. Stewart made a move inside Harvick on Lap 197, but Harvick proved the outside lane was raceable, holding Stewart off for a lap.

Stewart tried again, getting past on the backstretch. But in Turn 3, Harvick dove back under Stewart to hold the top spot again. Finally, on Lap 201, Stewart made the pass for the lead stick, pulling away from Harvick, who was then passed for second by Jeff Burton.

Later, Stewart came out of the pits in fourth place after a stop on Lap 225, but his car was hampered by traffic and a mismatched set of tires.

“It’s quite obvious the Dodges can put two tires on and have that much more grip and just drive away with the show,” said Stewart’s crew chief, Greg Zipadelli. “When you get a short run like that, it’s like qualifying… Then, we got a set of tires from Goodyear that were made back six months ago, I guess, and that hurt us at the end. I guess it just wasn’t our day.”

He faded back in the back, and under another caution, Stewart was penalized after driving his car from the track across the grass to the pit access road.

The race restarted with 13 laps to go, with Atwood leading Elliott. The 1988 Winston Cup champion stalked the young rookie for nine laps, and when Atwood slipped in Turn 4, Elliott shot by for the victory.

“It makes everybody real nervous,” Atwood said. “I know Ray was up there about to have a heart attack, having both cars up there. When you’re racing that fast on a track that slick, it doesn’t take much, and you can get together and not even mean to.

“Luckily, everything was fine. I got a little bit sideways right in front of him, and he was able just to go on by me. I tried to hold him off, but I wasn’t going to do anything that could take us both out.”

Elliott was simply worried about catching Atwood.

“I was really concerned about even being able to get to Casey,” Elliott said. “He was running just good enough. I almost got him on the restart. He got a little bit of distance on me, and I said, ‘Man, that’s it.’ I thought maybe I could hold off the third-place guy from catching him, so we just kept working and working.

“I finally worked a couple of different grooves and caught him. I got up under him, and he got bad loose down there in (Turns) 3 and 4. That’s all it took.”

Photos

  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • Harvick Wins Southern 500
  • Harvick Wins Southern 500
  • Harvick Wins Southern 500
  • Harvick Wins Southern 500
  • Harvick Wins Southern 500
  • Harvick Wins Southern 500
  • Harvick Wins Southern 500
  • Harvick Wins Southern 500
  • Harvick Wins Southern 500
  • Harvick Wins Southern 500
  • Harvick Wins Southern 500
  • Harvick Wins Southern 500
  • Harvick Wins Southern 500
  • Harvick Wins Southern 500
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • From the Archives: Darlington
  • Duck Commander 500
  • Duck Commander 500
  • Duck Commander 500
  • Duck Commander 500
  • © 2014 MRN. All Rights Reserved

    FacebookTwitterDiggDeliciousLinkedInGoogle BookmarksYahoo BookmarksLive (MSN)

    ISC Track Sites