Jeff Gordon says short tracks were the one area where he was truly short of answers when he arrived as a regular in NASCAR’s Winston Cup series in 1993.
His overpowering victory in the Goody’s Headache Powder 500 on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va. - his second straight win and fourth in eight starts this season - was simply the latest example that the precocious 25-year-old learns his lessons fast and well.
“It means a lot to me and to Ray (crew chief Ray Evernham) to win on the short tracks because this has been the toughest thing for me to adapt to, particularly at a place like Martinsville,” Gordon said.
A week earlier, Gordon had to bump his way past Rusty Wallace on the last turn of the last lap to win. This time, he led a race-record 432 of 500 laps on the .526-mile oval, and not even being spun out in an incident with Jimmy Spencer could slow his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for more than a few moments.
“It takes a lot of patience to win at Martinsville, and that’s the hardest thing,” said Gordon, who also won here last September. “But when you’ve got a car that drives as good as this thing did today, it’s easy to be patient.”
Gordon, who has 23 career victories, has 18 top-10 finishes in his last 19 starts on tracks shorter than one mile. That includes seven wins.
Bobby Hamilton chased Gordon to the end, finishing 1.047 seconds - about three car-lengths behind - in a Pontiac. Mark Martin wound up third in a Ford, followed by Terry Labonte, Gordon’s teammate and the defending Winston Cup champion.
Series leader Dale Jarrett, who came into the race with leads of 90 and 164 points over runner-up Labonte and third-place Gordon, had a dismal afternoon, finishing a lap down in 16th. His lead fell to 45 points over Labonte and 94 over Gordon.
Champion wins at Phoenix
Defending series champion Vic Rice picked up where he left off last season, taking a 0.735-second flag-to-flag GT America victory over Chris Neville at Phoenix International Raceway.
Rice, driving the No. 9 Black Star Beer Chevrolet Monte Carlo, was never seriously challenged throughout the 20-lap, 30.2-mile race on the 1.51-mile, 11-turn PIR road course.
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