April 6, 2009 in Sports

Gordon ends winless streak

Victory in Texas his first in 47 races
Stephen Hawkins Associated Press
 
Dallas Morning News photo

Jeff Gordon celebrates his return to Victory Lane. Dallas Morning News
(Full-size photo)

FORT WORTH, Texas — Jeff Gordon had gone so long without winning a race that he picked up a new trick or two watching other drivers celebrate.

No, not a backflip a la Carl Edwards.

After the obligatory burnout on the frontstretch for his first victory ever at Texas, one that ended his career-high 47-race winless drought in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Gordon pulled up to the start-finish line and got the checkered flag to take on a long-awaited victory lap.

“It was the coolest. It was like winning for the very first time,” Gordon said. “Things have changed since I won a race. … That’s the first time I’ve ever carried a checkered flag in NASCAR. I used to do that in quarter-midgets when I was 8.”

Then, after doing another burnout on the backstretch, Gordon finally got to drive into Victory Lane at Texas, where winners get cowboy hats and fire six-shooters into the air.

“This is a huge relief, but also very exciting,” Gordon said. “If we can win at Texas, I feel like we can win anywhere.”

Gordon, already the season points leader with four top-five finishes in the first six races, beat Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson to win for the first time on the 1 1/2 -mile high-banked Texas track – leaving only one active track he hasn’t won in his No. 24 Chevrolet.

Edwards, who was going for three in a row at Texas after last year getting to do his celebratory backflips twice by sweeping both races, finished 10th after passing Gordon to lead only nine laps late in the race.

It was the 17th Cup race at Texas, the track where the four-time Cup champion has the only two last-place finishes in his 552 career starts. One of the 43rd-place finishes came last spring before he was the runner-up to Edwards in the fall race after winning the pole.

The only track Gordon now hasn’t won at is Homestead. He will have to wait until the season finale in November for a chance to change that.

Not only was it his first victory in the Lone Star state, it was the first time Gordon had won anywhere since October 2007 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C.

During interviews in Victory Lane at Texas, Gordon had to sneak a peek at the logos on his car to remind himself of everybody he needed to thank. It had been a long time, especially by his standards.

Gordon won by 0.542 seconds with an average speed of 146.372 mph for his 82nd career victory, one behind Cale Yarborough for fifth on the all-time list. Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip are tied for third on that list with 84 victories.

Edwards was leading when the final caution came out because David Stremme got loose and spun coming out of the third turn with 30 laps to go in the 334-lap race.

But Edwards’ crew had problems changing tires and he dropped 10 spots to 11th coming off pit row. Gordon had a flawless stop, moving from third to first.

“They don’t yell at me when I hit the wall so it is not my position to be mad at them,” Edwards said. “We just have to do whatever we can to fix it.”

Gordon stayed in front the rest of the way though he was pushed by Johnson in the No. 48 car that had clinched two Sprint Cup season championships since Gordon last won a race.

“I ran Jeff’s line, put pressure on him,” Johnson said. “He didn’t make any mistakes. I could only get so close.”

What if Johnson had been able to pass Gordon, the teammate who owns his car?

“As a friend, I would have felt bad. As a competitor, I would have been excited,” Johnson said. “If I’m not going to win it, I want one of my teammates and especially one of my friends. As a friend, I’m definitely happy for Jeff.”

Johnson moved up two spots to second in season points, 162 behind Gordon before the series takes next weekend off for Easter.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. took only right-side tires and went from 12th to first on a restart with 76 laps to go.

But Earnhardt quickly lost that lead between turns one and two when Kyle Busch, trying to regain a lost lap, got loose and bumped him. Earnhardt got pushed to the top of the track, allowing Gordon to charge ahead, and wound up sliding all the way to 20th.

Gordon was still holding the lead with 39 laps left when he got caught in traffic and Edwards slid under him into first. Tony Stewart got past Gordon a few laps later and that was the running order when Stremme spun out.

Greg Biffle finished third, followed by Stewart and Matt Kenseth. Edwards finished a spot ahead of polesitter David Reutimann.

Reutimann, driving a No. 00 Toyota for Michael Waltrip, didn’t even lead the first lap. Gordon did, passing him as they crossed the start-finish-line for the first time.

Gordon led six times for 105 laps in a race that featured 28 lead changes, nine more than any other Cup race this season and one short of the Texas record.

Gordon was never out of the top 10.

Biffle led three times for 93 laps and his Roush Fenway teammate Kenseth had three leads for 55 laps. With Edwards, Roush had three drivers in the top 10 following a three-race span where the team had only two top-10 finishes.

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