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MONDAY, OCTOBER 8, 2007
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David Reutimann (00), Bobby Labonte (43), Kyle Busch (5), Jamie McMurray (26), Matt Kenseth (17), Paul Menard (15), and David Ragan (6) are involved in a wreck on lap 145 during the UAW-Ford 500.
AP photo by Dale Davis
David Reutimann (00), Bobby Labonte (43), Kyle Busch (5), Jamie McMurray (26), Matt Kenseth (17), Paul Menard (15), and David Ragan (6) are involved in a wreck on lap 145 during the UAW-Ford 500.

Slow and steady wins race
Jeff Gordon hangs toward back before making move and taking lead on last lap

By Jenna Fryer
Associated Press Writer

TALLADEGA — It’s not in Jeff Gordon’s nature to go slow, and asking the four-time series champion to ride aimlessly around in the back of the pack is unheard of.

But with all the unknowns surrounding Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, it seemed to be the safest strategy. Still, he resisted, and even told car owner Rick Hendrick he wouldn’t do it.

He apparently had a change of heart, agreeing to turn parade laps for much of the race before surging past Jimmie Johnson on the final lap and holding off his teammate to become the career victory leader at restrictor-plate tracks.

“It was the hardest race I’ve ever had to be in. I’ve never had that type of mind-set before,” Gordon said. “I’ve never done that before. I even told Rick Hendrick earlier in the week that some guys were talking about that strategy, and I can’t do it — I think we’ve got to get out there and race and let the chips fall where they may.

“I changed that ... and it was tough because I don’t like just going out there and riding in the back. I want to be out there battling for the lead and leading laps.”

He parlayed his decision into his 12th career plate win and fifth victory this season, and moved back on top of the points standings. He leads Johnson by nine points with six races remaining in the Chase for the championship.

But it was bizarre way to do it by Gordon’s standards.

Fears over the Car of Tomorrow’s plate debut and former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve’s first Nextel Cup event had the entire field concerned the race would be one big demolition derby.

So Gordon decided he’d avoid the mess by staying in the back, and found himself yawning in his race car for the first time in his career.

Gordon had a horrible qualifying effort — he started 34th — and it put him at the back, where he never tried to move from. He then suffered a late-race setback when he pulled out of his pit with a hose hanging from his car, earning a pass-through penalty that seemed to take him out of contention.

Still, he sat back, resisting the urge to charge to the front.

“It was terrible. I am telling you that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in a race car,” Gordon said. “I like to think that I have pretty good patience, but that’s beyond patience.

“There’s just nothing fun about that, but I knew it was the smart thing.”

A master at working the draft, Gordon eventually marched toward the front and had moved into the top 15 as the race neared its completion. With six laps to go, he was in the middle of a Hendrick Motorsports charge that saw Johnson, Gordon and Casey Mears surge to the front of the pack.

Gordon was stuck behind Johnson, though, and waited until the last lap to make a move toward the front.

He finally jumped up high, squeezing in between Johnson and the Penske cars of Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch.

Just as Johnson tried to block him, two-time series champion Tony Stewart slid onto Gordon’s bumper and gave him a huge push into the lead. Gordon led just one lap — the last one — to complete a season sweep at Talladega.

“I wasn’t happy with getting passed, but that would have been the situation with anybody,” said Johnson, who finished second. “To get that close and not win is a letdown. There must have been stuff going on behind me that I couldn’t see, but Jeff could in his mirror, and he pulled up and got in front of the 20 (Stewart) and was able to take advantage of that push.”

Dave Blaney was third in the best finish this year for a Toyota driver. Title contender Denny Hamlin was fourth and was followed by Ryan Newman, who was leading late in his Dodge, and Mears.

Chase driver Kurt Busch was seventh and Stewart, who was in position to win this race very late, had two strategic moves backfire and was shuffled back to eighth.

This race blew open the Chase for the championship standings, as Gordon and Johnson positioned themselves for a Hendrick battle toward the title. Third-place driver Clint Bowyer finished 11th, but fell 63 points behind the leader.

The garage-wide fear of multiple wrecks because of dangerous driving conditions everyone expected from the Car of Tomorrow didn’t materialize until the first big accident with 44 laps to go. And that was more of a fluke than it was a product of Talladega’s treacherous racing — Bobby Labonte had some sort of mechanical failure that caused his car to squirt down the track and into Chase driver Kyle Busch.

The contact started an 11-car accident that also collected title contenders Matt Kenseth and Hamlin, although Hamlin suffered only cosmetic damage.

Points standings

1, Jeff Gordon 5,690

2, Jimmie Johnson 5,681

3, Clint Bowyer 5,627

4, TonyStewart 5,536

5, Kevin Harvick 5,488

6, Carl Edwards 5,485

7, Kurt Busch 5,475

8, Kyle Busch 5,430

9, DennyHamlin 5,428

10, MartinTruex Jr. 5,390

11, Matt Kenseth 5,372

12, Jeff Burton 5,354

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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