Monday, October 20, 2003

Gordon cruises to Martinsville sweep

Gets 2nd win of season on short track

The Associated Press

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Jeff Gordon overpowered the field Sunday, completing a season sweep of the two NASCAR Winston Cup races at Martinsville Speedway.

The victory in the caution-filled Subway 500 was the 63rd win of Gordon's career but only his second of the season. The four-time series champion led 313 of the 500 laps on the half-mile oval.

"This baby just needed to be out front in clean air and it was a rocketship," Gordon said of his No. 24 Chevrolet. "It's awesome to be back in Victory Lane."

Jimmie Johnson, Gordon's protege and Hendrick Motorsports teammate, started 26th and lost more ground when he spun out early, but came back to finish second.

It was a typical short-track race, with plenty of bumping and banging that produced 15 caution flags and a record 117 laps run under yellow.

As he did in his win here in April, Gordon started from the pole, dominated early, struggled for a while, then came back even stronger.

Gordon, who owns five victories at Martinsville, led the final 205 laps.

After having only two finishes better than 19th in a nine-race stretch in July and August, Gordon came into Sunday's race with five consecutive fifth-place finishes.

Johnson trailed Gordon across the finish line by 1.036-seconds - about five car-lengths.

Tony Stewart, coming off a win last week in Charlotte, finished third, just ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who appeared to have the second-best car most of the race.

The key moment of the day came on lap 405 under caution when Earnhardt, running a close second to Gordon and applying plenty of pressure on the leader, pitted for tires.

"He had a set of tires we didn't like and they were getting worse and worse," said Tony Eury, Earnhardt's crew chief. "He wasn't going to win the race with those tires."

None of the leaders needed more gas to get to the end, but Gordon said he too was thinking about pitting for fresh tires. Robbie Loomis, Gordon's crew chief, told him to come in if Earnhardt did.

"Junior went in and I looked at my mirror and saw there weren't that many other guys that were coming (in) and I said, 'I'm sorry, but I can't do it with not that many guys coming,' " Gordon said. "Robbie said, 'All right, now it's all up to you. You've got to take those tires all the way to the end. You've got plenty of fuel.' I just tried to be as smooth as I could and keep after them."

Series leader Matt Kenseth, who came into the race with margins of 267 points over Kevin Harvick and 324 over Earnhardt, finished 13th and saw his lead over Harvick cut to 240 points with four races remaining.

"Two out of the last four tracks we have coming up we've won at . . . so I'm feeling good and ready to go," Kenseth said.

Earnhardt remained third, but chopped his margin to 283 going into Sunday's race at Atlanta.

There was plenty of bent sheet metal Sunday, but no serious accidents or injuries.

"This place is fun when you've got a really good handling car," Kenseth said. "When you're off a little bit, it's a handful."

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