Gordon sweeps Talladega, gets 80th win
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Neither Jeff Gordon nor Jimmie Johnson enjoyed playing possum Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. But an unknown quantity -- NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow -- dictated a conservative strategy in the UAW-Ford 500 at the 2.66-mile track...
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Neither Jeff Gordon nor Jimmie Johnson enjoyed playing possum Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.
But an unknown quantity -- NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow -- dictated a conservative strategy in the UAW-Ford 500 at the 2.66-mile track. As it turned out, conservatism was the key to success for the Hendrick Motorsports teammates.
With a bump from Tony Stewart's No. 20 Chevrolet, Gordon passed Johnson on the backstretch on the 188th and final lap and held on to win for the fifth time this season and the 80th time in his Cup career. Gordon also wrested the top spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup from his teammate and leads Johnson by nine points as the series heads to Charlotte for the fifth race in the Chase.
Dave Blaney ran third and regained a position in the top 35 in owner points. Denny Hamlin was fourth, despite catching a piece of an 11-car wreck late in the race. Ryan Newman finished fifth, followed by Casey Mears, Kurt Busch, Stewart, Tony Raines and Reed Sorenson.
Gordon, who won for the sixth time at Talladega to break a tie with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for victories at the track, beat Johnson to the finish line by .066 seconds after both drivers spent most of the afternoon deliberately lagging behind the front pack at NASCAR's largest and most capricious superspeedway. The cautious approach tried the patience of both drivers, but it paid enormous dividends.
"I've never yawned in a racecar, but I yawned back there," Gordon said. "It was the hardest race I've ever had to be in, with that type of
mind-set. I've never had to do that before, where you're back there in the back and kind of riding along. I was running half-throttle -- we were getting amazing fuel mileage.
"Based on what we found here in testing, and based on where we qualified, that pretty much answered what our approach was for today. ... I even told (owner) Rick Hendrick earlier in the week, when some guys were talking about that strategy, 'I can't do it.' It was tough, because I don't like going out there and riding in the back. I want to be up there battling for the lead. I knew we could get up there. I just didn't know how far we could get."
Johnson also had to overcome the urge to move forward.
"For us, things went exactly as we planned and hoped, so I'm very pleased with that," Johnson said. "I think it's very rare that that takes place. We started at the back and tried to avoid the problems, and it took a long, long time before we had a big problem (major wreck).
"But we worked up through there, and at that point -- for whatever reason -- there were only 25 or 27 cars still on the track, and the energy of that kind of draft is much less risky than a 43-car draft. So I felt comfortable drafting and racing, and I could see that the guys close to me in points had the same philosophy. It helped me stay right there (in the back).
"But once we took off and got going, I had a great racecar."
With an 11th-place finish, Clint Bowyer remained third in points and is 63 behind Gordon. Stewart, who ran eighth after a shuffle of positions on the final lap, is fourth in the standings, 154 points out of first.
Gordon and Johnson made their moves in the final eight laps, following a restart on Lap 181, after a four-car wreck involving Raines, polesitter Michael Waltrip, Elliott Sadler and Greg Biffle brought out the ninth and final caution of the day. Johnson led Gordon and fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mears at the head of the inside line, which surged into the lead on Lap 183. Johnson remained at the point until the final circuit.
When the lead pack went three-wide on that last lap, Gordon pulled out of line from his position behind Johnson and went to the outside in front of Stewart, who pushed Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet to the front.
Those who predicted a major collision in the first Car of Tomorrow race at a superspeedway had to wait until Lap 145 for "the big one." The No. 43 Dodge of Bobby Labonte broke loose in Turn 4 and careened down the track into the No. 5 Chevy of Chase contender Kyle Busch, triggering an 11-car wreck that included Chase qualifiers Matt Kenseth and Hamlin.
With the exception of Bowyer and Paul Menard (another victim of the Lap 145 crash), engine troubles sidelined the majority of drivers powered by the Dale Earnhardt Inc.-Richard Childress Racing joint venture in engine development. Chasers Jeff Burton and Martin Truex Jr. retired from the race with blown engines, as did Dale Earnhardt Jr., who suffered his sixth DNF of the year because of engine failure. Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola also suffered from engine troubles.
NOTE: Despite a couple of brushes with the wall, former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve finished 21st in his NASCAR Nextel Cup debut.