Another One For The Road

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SONOMA, Calif. - Jeff Gordon reclaimed his status as NASCAR's "King of the Road" on Sunday.

Gordon scored his ninth career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series road course victory Sunday afternoon as he picked up the win in the Dodge/SaveMart 350 at Infineon Raceway for his 74th career series triumph.

After going winless in 19 races, dating back to his victory at Martinsville Speedway last October, Gordon outraced Ryan Newman and Terry Labonte to pick-up the checkered flag for the the fifth time at the twisting, northern California road circuit.

The win capped a big weekend for Gordon, who announced he is engaged to his longtime girlfriend Ingrid Vandebosch

"This has been just an awesome weekend," said Gordon.

He led a race-high 44 laps on Sunday around the 1.99-mile, 11 turn circuit.

"Man, I didn't know if we were ever going to win another one of these races," he said. "I knew this team was something special, we just haven't had a chance to really show it. They gave me such an awesome race car this weekend that I had to get them this win. If we didn't win with this car, we can't ever win."

The win was also big for Gordon as it put him back into the "Chase for the NEXTEL Cup" championship as he is now 8th after the season's first 16 races.

Gordon started his DuPont Chevrolet 11th in the field on Sunday and took the lead on lap 49 of the 100 circuit event.

He was shuffled back in the field after a round of spit stops and had to chase down former teammate Labonte for the win, who inherited the lead by not pitting for fuel on lap 71 when the rest of the leaders stopped for fuel.

But after being more than 12 seconds behind Labonte, Gordon was able to rundown the veteran and went back into the top spot for good on lap 88 before pulling away for the historic win.

"We should have been second but I didn't get my tires good and clean after that last red flag," said Labonte, referring to the race's second red flag late in the race for a multi-car accident.

"I didn't want to use too much gas. It took me a couple of laps to get going and the 12 car got me."

Newman's second place finish was his best since finishing third in the Daytona 500.

"He (Labonte) was definitely holding me up a little bit," Newman said. "He definitely made it hard, but that's his job. There's two good passing zones at this race track, and I got him at one of them. The heat was bad. I had a cramp in my left butt cheek, and it's still there, so I'm trying to get out of here."

Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch rounded out the Top 5.

Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton, Elliott Sadler, Boris Said and Jimmie Johnson completed the first ten finishers.

Tony Stewart's bid for a fourth straight road course win came up short. The defending race winner got pegged with a drive-through penalty for speeding on pit road, but still was able to get back into contention.

But a late race cylinder problem ended any hopes Stewart had of repeating his win of a year ago and he finished 28th.

The NEXTEL Cup Series now heads to Daytona International Speedway for next Saturday night's Pepsi 400.

        

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