Robby Gordon Bumps And Wins
November 23, 2001 | 11:00 P.M. EST
As one Gordon celebrated, another sulked. Jeff Gordon had dominated the postponed race, leading 257 of the 300 laps, but Robby Gordon nudged him out of the lead with 15 laps to go to claim his first Winston Cup victory.
“That’s what they call racing,” Robby Gordon said. “The 12 car (Mike Wallace) checked up. Gordon got by me when the 45 (Kyle Petty) blocked me. I didn’t get that one. He ran me all the way to the grass. Maybe he didn’t know I was there.
“I knew we had to get through those lapped cars because Jeff was better in the long runs and I was better in the short runs.”
The victory culminated a topsy-turvy week for Robby Gordon. Last Friday, Gordon was officially introduced as the driver of Richard Childress Racing’s No. 31 Chevy, but he then failed to qualify for last weekend’s NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“If we keep a car under him, he’s got enough talent to win a lot of races,” Childress said.
But Friday, Robby Gordon was on top of the Winston Cup world, winning in his 62nd career race.
Sterling Marlin finished second, with Bobby Labonte third, Matt Kenseth fourth and Tony Stewart fifth. Jerry Nadeau ended up sixth, followed by Robert Pressley, Brett Bodine, Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett.
Jeff Gordon finished 15th, one lap down, after being penalized for hitting Robby Gordon under caution.
“See? Everybody thought you couldn’t make me mad,” Jeff said. “You can make me mad. That 31 certainly did today. It was a heck of a battle. It was between him and me anyway. I just wish it would have happened fair and square instead of just knocking a guy out of the way. We had some lapped traffic to go through, and you’ve got to be patient. I don’t care if there’s 15 laps to go, you’ve got to be patient.”
But Robby Gordon said it was time to go.
“I didn’t expect that from Jeff Gordon,” Robby Gordon said of the retaliation. “I didn’t wreck him. I could see if I wrecked him. But he had a car good enough to win the race and took himself out of the race. I knew if he didn’t wreck me, there wasn’t another car out here to beat me.
“I had to go. I didn’t mean to get into him. The 12 got sideways, and once the 12 got sideways, Jeff got on the brakes. I got into him, but I didn’t hit him hard.”
Despite the contact and poor finish, Gordon won the Winston Cup title by 349 points over Stewart.
“We showed them that we weren’t just going to come here to New Hampshire and walk away,” Gordon said. “We wanted to come up here and show them what we’re made of, and that was just an awesome effort. That was just a shame.”
Marlin moved up to third in the final points standings, bumping Rudd to fourth. Jarrett ended up fifth, followed by Labonte, Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Harvick and Jeff Burton.
Friday’s race was moved from its original date of Sept. 16 after the terrorist attacks on the United States. The day after Thanksgiving wasn’t a desired date, but the Winston Cup schedule had no breaks over the final 20 weeks of the season.
Gordon started from the pole on the basis of leading the car owner’s point standings back in September. Gordon led the first lap, let Kevin Harvick lead the second and then got back around Harvick and set sail.
Things got interesting in the final 40 laps as the leaders’ tires starting going away. Harvick, whose lapped car had pitted a few laps earlier, passed Gordon, and Labonte followed Harvick through for the lead.
Meanwhile, Robby Gordon moved in on the Top 2, making it a three-car battle for the lead. Jeff Gordon got back by Labonte with 38 laps left, with Robby Gordon taking second place.
But a caution for Ricky Craven’s contact with the wall brought out a caution with 28 laps to go. Marlin’s team changed two tires and took the lead, with Robby Gordon beating Jeff Gordon out of the pits to move to second.
There were four cars at the end of the lead lap in front of Marlin, meaning there was a lot of lapped traffic when the race went green on Lap 279.
Robby Gordon made easy work of Marlin, taking the lead with 19 laps remaining. But the lapped car of Kyle Petty, trying to move out of the way, pushed Robby Gordon to the inside of the track, and Jeff Gordon went to the outside to move back out front.
Three laps later, things really got interesting. Robby Gordon got in the back of Jeff Gordon’s car in Turn 3, sending Jeff sideways and into the rear of Mike Wallace. Robby scooted by to take the lead, but under caution, Jeff Gordon slammed into the back of Robby’s car on the backstretch. Jeff then sideswiped Robby before Robby got out of the way.
Jeff Gordon’s actions got him a one-lap penalty from NASCAR, effectively eliminating him from the race.
“I just wish I would have taken his tire down or something so at least he wouldn’t have won the race,” Gordon said. “I just didn’t do a very good job of it. It’s not sportsmanlike, I know. But hey man, I didn’t think it was sportsmanlike what he did to me, and (NASCAR) didn’t penalize him.”
Jeff Gordon also said Robby should be “embarrassed” with his victory, but Robby just smiled.
“For Jeff to say I’m embarrassed, he should be embarrassed by retaliating like he did,” Robby said.
The 2001 Winston Cup season began with tragedy for Richard Childress Racing, and ended in elation. The death of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona in February shocked the entire racing world.
Robby Gordon did the same on Friday by winning the New Hampshire 300.
The 2002 season opens in Daytona Beach, Fla. next February 11 with the Budweiser Shootout for this year’s pole winners. The Gatorade Twin 125-mile qualifying races is the following Thursday, with the Daytona 500 set for Feb. 18.