Although Jeff Gordon's hopes for a record-setting third straight Winston Cup championship have vanished, he's now the king of the road.
With his fifth career victory on a road course, the 28-year-old driver made NASCAR history. The win Sunday at Watkins Glen International, his third straight in the Frontier at the Glen, enabled him to pass Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin for career victories on the serpentine tracks where the circuit races twice each year.
He credited crew chief Ray Evernham and his team for that dominance.
"They always find a way to make it go faster," said Gordon, who also won two months ago in Sonoma, Calif. "All I had to do was try not to make too many mistakes."
It was Gordon's 47th career victory and fifth this year, giving him the lead in the series. Should he wind up with the most wins this year, Gordon would become the only driver to lead the circuit five years in a row.
His Chevrolet beat that of road-course specialist Ron Fellows by about 10 car-lengths- - .763 seconds.
But the win -- his fifth straight on a road course -- did little to enhance his chances for a third straight title. Gordon advanced a position in the standings to fifth after 21 of 34 races, but has conceded for weeks that he has nothing more than a mathematical chance to catch series leader Dale Jarrett.
Gordon trails Jarrett by 482 points. After finishing fourth, Jarrett's lead over Martin is commanding 300 points.
"We did what we needed to do, and I'm extremely happy with that," Jarrett said after the best road-course finish of his career. "But we still have some work to do on the road courses because Jeff, Ron Fellows and Rusty were better than we were."
Gordon's victory was convincing if far-less dramatic than a year ago, when he charged from far back in the field over the final third of the race to pass Wallace, Martin and finally Mike Skinner. This time, only Fellows was a factor.
"That's not the guy you want to have behind you," Gordon said of Fellows. "He puts a lot of pressure on you."
Surprisingly, Fellows was not satisfied with second.
"I hate to disappoint you, but we wanted to win," he said. "But Jeff Gordon's a great racer, and he was just too fast for us in the straightaways."
Gordon, who passed Buck Baker to take sole possession of 11th place in career victories, was most responsible for the win, Evernham said.
"Jeff has a lot of input on what goes into the car on the road courses," Evernham said. "Today, I just sort of sat up on the box and didn't say much."
|Jeff Gordon pulls away from the pack at The Glen.|
Wallace, who set the track record with a qualifying speed of 121.234 mph, finished third in his Ford.
"Fellows and Gordon were real strong," Wallace said. "We just didn't have enough for them."
After the Ford of Jarrett came that of Jerry Nadeau. Rookie Tony Stewart was sixth, followed by Wally Dallenbach, Kyle Petty, Skinner and Martin.
Gordon got $119,860 from a purse of $1.8 million. His average speed was 87.722 mph in a race slowed seven times for 15 laps. There were 12 lead changes among eight drivers.
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