Jeff Gordon again proved his greatness, this time driving the final 133 laps Sunday with the same left-side tires and holding off archrival Mark Martin to win the CMT 300.
The victory, engineered by crew chief Ray Evernham, was reminiscent of the way Gordon won three years ago at New Hampshire International Speedway. And it enabled him to maintain his 67-point lead over Martin in the Winston Cup standings.
It wasn't easy, however. On the 81st lap, Gordon was caught on the outside and lost 15 positions to fall all the way to 17th.
"Once you got caught on the outside, you were in trouble," Gordon said. "I got caught once early, but my teammate, Terry Labonte let me back in line."
"The next time, I was going backward so fast even he couldn't help me."
But Martin who led 193 of the 300 laps, made a crucial mistake with 67 remaining. He got sideways while attempting to pass a lapped car, made contact and sent Rich Bickle into the fourth-turn wall.
That brought out a caution, and gave Evernham a chance to prove he's the smartest crew chief in the business. While Martin and Dale Jarrett took four tires each, Gordon got just two and moved from fifth to first.
"Jeff Gordon hung with us," Evernham said. "We knew we had a good car if the race stayed green. We just needed to pick up track position."
Then, he needed a driver capable of an amazing 100-lap run that made him a winner at Loudon in 1995. He had just that.
"I just had to be easy on the tires," Gordon said. "I didn't think I could keep him back there, but I knew I had to be smooth and not make any mistakes."
He got one bad break, which enabled Martin to close within two car-lengths with 36 laps left. But Martin soon scraped the wall, and never was a factor in the closing laps.
"The 24 car was just too fast for us," Martin said. "I tried to catch him, but I just couldn't do it."
Earlier, Gordon wondered if he were fas enough to finish any better than fifth.
"There were several times when I thought we were out of it, but Ray Evernham and the Rainbows Warriors won the race today," he said. "They just have that refuse-to-lose attitude."
The victory enabled Gordon to maintain his 67-point lead over Martin, who ended The Kid's four-race winning streak last weekend in Bristol, Tenn. It also made Gordon the first three-time winner in the six years of racing at NHIS.
Gordon got $205,400 from a purse of $2.3 million for his 38th career victory and series-leading ninth this year.
His Chevrolet beat Martin's Ford to the finish line by 0.644 seconds, John Andretti was third in a Pontiac, followed by the Ford of Dale Jarrett and that Jeff Burton, who had dominated the Jiffy Lube 300 seven weeks ago at NHIS.
The track, which after two days of giving the drivers fits and trashing cars in practice and qualifying, was no problem in the race. Most of the drivers had predicted that a liquid and sand-based compound applied to the low-banked turns would wear off and create safe racing grooves.
There were only four caution flags covering 25 laps. Last year, the event was interrupted eight times for 49 laps. The Jiffy Lube 300 on July 12 was slowed for 40 laps by six yellow flags.
Gordon, who led 68 first laps, was one of nine drivers who exchanged the lead 11 times. His average speed was 112.078 mph.
Kenny Wallace finished sixth in a Ford , followed by the Pontiac of Bobby Labonte, Rusty Wallace's Ford, the Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt and the Ford of Ricky Rudd.
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