Last week, it was one of the biggest underdog stories in NASCAR to start off the season. Trevor Bayne winning the Daytona 500 put NASCAR right in front of all the major sports.
A 20-year-old driver, who just celebrated his birthday the day prior, was never picked to win the race, but he was noticed by many of his competitors. The one he was noticed by the most was veteran Jeff Gordon, who agreed to have Bayne be his drafting partner for most of the weekend. Bayne admitted that Gordon was his childhood hero, as the first number he ever drove when he started racing was 24.
At the same time, Gordon himself was riding a streak he would rather forget. The last time Gordon ever drove his car into victory lane was at Texas in 2009. From that point, he never saw victory lane in a points race.
That is, until Sunday.
With a new sponsor, a new attitude, and a bigger desire to win than ever, Gordon went on to win the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway. It was 66 races since the No. 24 went to victory lane, and ultimately that win would be the last one with DuPont as the primary sponsor on Gordon’s car.
In just the second race with Gordon, the AARP’s Drive To End Hunger drove to victory. It wasn’t easy, but Gordon did so by being the dominant car. He led the most laps, and had the best car for majority of the race. Even with a brush of the wall after Carl Edwards had problems of his own, Gordon and his crew didn’t get concerned. He was concerned on the radio, but crew chief Alan Gustafson assured him the car was fine.
It was quite possibly better than fine, it was incredible. On the final restart, Gordon found himself in the third spot behind Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart. Stewart had the lead, but Busch quickly took the top spot, and appeared to have a strong chance of spoiling the party.
However, lap by lap, Gordon just started chipping away at the lead. A tenth of a lap here, then two tenths the next. On lap 302, Gordon caught Busch but wasn’t set to pass. He looked, but no success. One lap later, coming out of turn 4, Gordon got the advantage on the inside thanks to a little tap of the bumper. Busch led at the line, but the two ran hard into turn 1 and Gordon almost appeared to spin out as the two slid up the track. But, Busch’s car seemed to keep Gordon from spinning out, and the No. 24 went to the lead.
At that point, Gordon knew he had to get away from Busch because he was one of the more aggressive drivers on the track. But it was for not, as Busch couldn’t run him down, and the streak ended with a waving of the checkered flag.
As a writer, I have to keep a professional opinion on what I see on the track, and not show any bias towards one particular driver or team. But, as a fan, I was ecstatic to see that car in victory lane. I have been a follower of Gordon since 1993, back when his car was a bright rainbow and he was winning practically every week. It was hard not seeing him have the success he did back then, but then came 2007 where he seemed to find the right combination, and began winning on a consistent basis.
However, in the last three years, only one victory. The agony of not being competitive was evident on Gordon, so getting to victory lane was almost a form of therapy for him and the team.
So, now a streak has ended, and the talk of when he would return to victory can float away like a feather in the wind. Now that he’s won once, he will want more.
Gordon’s next opportunity will come next Sunday, as NASCAR stays out west but will decide to hit the Strip. There will be no cactus plants, nor sand on this horizon. Instead, we’re looking at neon lights, showgirls, and a whole new way to gamble. The Sprint Cup Series will move all-in as they descend on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
So, who’s going to cash in and win the championship belt in the Kobalt Tools 400? Tune in to FOX starting at 2 p.m. ET to find out.
RESULTS: 1-Gordon 2-Kyle Busch 3-Johnson 4-Harvick 5-Newman 6-Kahne 7-Stewart 8-Kurt Busch 9-Allmendinger 10-Earnhardt Jr.
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Hamlin 13-Martin 20-Biffle 26-Burton 28-Edwards
CAUTIONS: 8 for 43 laps. Lap 21-25 (debris), 35-38 (#7 spin-T2), 51-55 (#21 accident-T1), 60-66 (#18, 24, 29, 31, 99 acciddent-BS), 60-66 (#18,24,29,31,99 accident, 68-72 (#1, 6, 7, 13, 31, 33, 34, 46, 47, 71, 78, 83, 88, 00 accident-BS [red flag-14 m 4s]), 128-133 (#6 accident-T4), 219-225 (fluid on track), 287-290 (debris).
LEAD CHANGES: 28 among 12 drivers. Edwards POLE, Kurt Busch 1-5, Kyle Busch 6-15, Edwards 16-22, Kurt Busch 23-31, Hamlin 32-35, Lally 36, McDowell 37, Edwards 38-51, Kurt Busch 52-68, Hamlin 69-73, Newman 74-76, Gordon 77-87, Newman 88-91, Stewart 92-123, Gordon 124-128, Stewart 129-140, Gordon 141-173, Stewart 174-182, Johnson 183-189, Gordon 190-191, Kenseth 192-193, Johnson 194-204, Gordon 205-282, Harvick 283, Johnson 284, Stewart 285-290, Kyle Busch 291-303, Gordon 304-312.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 1 Min, 49 Secs
AVERAGE SPEED: 102.961 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 1.137 Seconds
POINT STANDINGS (Top 12): 1-Kyle Busch, 80 points; 2-Kurt Busch, -3; 3-Stewart, -11; 4-Allmendinger, -11; 5-Gordon, -15; 6-Martin, -15; 7-Labonte, -16; 8-Newman, -16; 9-Montoya, -16; 10-Gilliland, -17; 11-Menard, -17; 12-Edwards, -21