March 30, 1998 in Sports

Gordon Wins Food City 500 Defending Winston Cup Champ Credits Pit Crew For Giving Him A Chance To Catch Terry Labonte

Associated Press

Of his 31 career victories, Jeff Gordon estimates as many as half are the direct result of good work by his pit crew. Sunday’s triumph in the Food City 500 definitely fits that scenario.

“I’m real excited about pulling this one off. We certainly didn’t show the strength to do it,” said Gordon, who was unable to put his car up front until a late-race pit stop gave him his first and only lead of the afternoon.

“I knew that last pit stop was a good one,” Gordon said. “I could tell. It was like, ‘Wow, these guys are jamming.”’ After his crew refueled his car, changed its tires and got him out first, Gordon took over from there, holding off teammate Terry Labonte over the last 59 laps to win his fourth consecutive spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Gordon, the defending Winston Cup champion, finished about five car-lengths ahead of Labonte and became the first repeat winner in the circuit’s six races so far this year.

The first short-track race of 1998 featured plenty of bumping and banging, leading to 14 caution periods and one brief red-flag period to clean up the debris on Bristol’s .533-mile, high-banked oval. The most serious crash sent Hut Stricklin to a local hospital for X-rays of his neck and back. No broken bones were detected, and Stricklin was released.

It was a difficult day for Rusty Wallace, who came in leading the season driver standings by 54 points over teammate Jeremy Mayfield.

Wallace dominated the first half of the race and led six times for 220 laps before fading from contention when his Ford Taurus developed engine trouble.

Wallace finished 33rd, shrinking his lead over Mayfield to a single point.

Gordon moved into third with Sunday’s victory, 41 points off the lead.

Spokane’s Chad Little finished 35th and took home $20,215.

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