Gordon Saves Best For Last
October 7, 2007 | 3:38 P.M. EST
And Jeff Gordon played that strategy to perfection on Sunday.
Gordon overcame a pit road penalty and pulled off a last lap pass of his teammate Jimmie Johnson to win Sunday's UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway giving him a sweep of NEXTEL Cup racing at the 2.66-mile track in 2007.
The win was Gordon's 80th career series triumph and sixth at Talladega. He also broke a tie with the late Dale Earnhardt for most restrictor plates wins with his 12th.
"I thought (Dale) Earnhardt had so many it was ridiculous. I'm blown away by that. To me, he's the man on restrictor plates," Gordon said.
Gordon's trip to victory lane was also the first for his daughter, Ella Sofia.
"That was cool, Man, that brought a tear to my eye," Gordon said. "I hope one day I win a race and her actually be able to say 'You won Daddy.' That would be the coolest thing ever. Just having her there was amazing and that made this win that much more exciting and memorable."
Johnson was the leader as the field took the white flag and had Gordon tucked in behind on the inside lane.
But as the pack raced out of turn two and down the backstretch, Stewart and a group of cars began to move to the outside line and make a run to the front.
Gordon quickly jerked his Pepsi No. 24 Chevrolet to the front of that group and with the help of Stewart and the outside draft, was able to move past Johnson at the checkered flag to take the dramatic win.
“The 20 was there,” Gordon said. “He had nowhere to go and he just drilled me. That pushed me up there.”
Johnson held on to finish second, but lost the point lead to Gordon in the process.
"I was going all I could on the bottom to defend that lane,” said Johnson. "There was more going on behind me than I could see. The 20 had a big run and Jeff moved up in front of him.”
In an uncharacteristic move both Gordon and Johnson spent the majority of the day riding in the back of the pack as the field tended to form a single-file pattern.
“I’ve never yawned in a race car before,” said Gordon, who averaged an average running position of 27.7 through out the 188-lap race.
Dave Blaney gave Toyota their best finish of their rookie season after coming home third.
"Our first goal was to get back in the top-35 in points, so I had to take care of the car all day," Blaney said. "I didn't want to do anything to put it in harm's way. I was way more cautious than I probably wanted to be. I just got with the right group of cars there at the end."
With 43 laps-to-go, "The Big One" broke up a relatively calm race to that point when Bobby Labonte had trouble with his No. 43 Dodge and collected 11 cars in the process.
"All of a sudden I went in the corner and the rear end just came out from under us," Labonte said.
Drivers involved in the melee included Chase contenders, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. Busch got the worst of the deal as he was forced to retire with a 36th-place finish. Hamlin's team, however, was able to make the necessary repairs and keep him on the lead lap to finish to finish fourth.
Ryan Newman rounded out the top five in the Alltel Dodge.
Casey Mears, Kurt Busch, Stewart, Tony Raines and Reed Sorenson completed the top-10 finishers.
Jacques Villeneuve finished a respectable 21st in the No. 27 Toyota in his first-career Cup start.
"I'm glad that I didn't create any problems with the drivers," Villeneuve said. "The finger was being pointed before the race, and that was understandable. The goal today was to stay out of trouble and not make enemies so next time I come back everything will be a little bit easier."
The engine woes for DEI continued as Aric Almirola, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. all exited the race prematurely after the motors expired in their Chevrolets.
"I'm sad for Martin (Truex Jr.) more than anything," Earnhardt Jr. said. "That team just has so much pride."
Truex Jr., who finished 42nd, wasn't the only Chase contender that experienced engine problems. Jeff Burton finished 43rd after the engine went south in his No. 31 Chevrolet on lap 91.
"We didn't suspect any problems," Burton said. "I think a lot of unknowns turning 8,500 all day long, which is something we typically don't do."
The rest of the Chase field finished this way: Clint Bowyer (11th), Carl Edwards (14th), Kevin Harvick (20th), Carl Edwards (14th) and Kenseth (26th).
Gordon now leads Johnson by nine and Bowyer by 63 as the series heads to Lowe's Motor Speedway for Saturday night's Bank of America 500.
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