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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gordon wins race; Stewart in Chase lead

Hank Kurz Jr. Associated Press

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – In a difficult year, Jeff Gordon needed this one.

Gordon held off Tony Stewart in a three-lap dash to win Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, his first victory since May 1. And though he’s not a factor in the Chase for the Championship, it was a step in the right direction for a team with a 26-year-old crew chief who has been on the job only six weeks since the departure of Robbie Loomis.

Stewart, meanwhile, dominated early and took a 15-point lead over third-place finisher Jimmie Johnson in the Chase. The yellow flag came out a track-record 19 times, and 113 laps were run under caution.

Gordon, a four-time champion, didn’t qualify for the 10-race playoff and had finished in the top 10 just three times in 14 races leading up to Sunday.

“It’s been a tough year and we certainly could use a win and today was just phenomenal,” Gordon said, patting crew chief Steve Letarte. “That was a great call he made to stay out that one time – that’s really what won us the race today.”

The call came when the 13th caution flew on lap 343 after a spin by Casey Mears. Told to stay on the track, Gordon assumed the lead when he and five others didn’t follow the other top contenders onto pit road. Also staying out were the Roush Racing trio of Greg Biffle, Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth. Stewart came off pit road seventh.

Stewart had dominated to that point, leading 283 of 343 laps, and he made quick work of the first six cars and seemed content to wait for Gordon to fade. Gordon was racing on tires more than 50 laps older than Stewart’s, but instead pulled away.

Gordon had to hold the lead through three more restarts, as well as the sight of Stewart nudging Johnson aside to take second place, but won by .235 seconds.

Gordon’s 73rd career victory gave him a sweep of the season’s two races on the .526-mile speedway – the oldest, shortest and tightest run in NASCAR’s premier series.

The runner-up finish was the second in a row for Stewart here. He led 247 laps in the spring before a tire came off with 70 laps to go. This time, he again dominated until the shadows grew longer, then wasn’t as strong after his last two pit stops.

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