Monday, April 14, 2003

Gordon bumps past Labonte to win

Virginia 500 racing hard but clean

By Hank Kurz Jr.
The Associated Press

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - As the laps ticked by with Jeff Gordon stuck behind leader Bobby Labonte, both drivers knew that Gordon still had one trump card to play in the Virginia 500.

Gordon played it with 13 laps to go Sunday, bumping Labonte's Chevrolet in the first turn, using the bobble it created to take the lead and going on to his 62nd Winston Cup victory.

"I don't think anybody would have done it any different," Gordon said. "We were definitely better. It was just hard to pass out there. I would have expected the same from anyone else."

Gordon had been chasing Labonte for 35 laps, and failing to push his Monte Carlo ahead in his bids to pass on the outside, on the inside and in a stirring side-by-side duel.

"Each lap that went by and got closer to the finish, the bumps were going to get harder and harder and harder," Gordon said. "I was pretty determined to win this race. I thought I was kind of nice about it."

Both drivers knew Gordon had the stronger car, and Labonte admitted he expected the nudge - and accepted it as fair.

"That was good, clean fun," he said, acknowledging that Gordon only moved him slightly to create space, rather that making him hit the wall.

The victory was Gordon's fourth on 0.526-mile Martinsville Speedway, the shortest circuit in Winston Cup racing. It also was his first this season and his first in 16 races dating to last September in Kansas City.

The four-time champion said he didn't really even turn into Labonte, but let Labonte turn into him from an outside line entering the turn.

"We held Jeff off as long as we could," Labonte said, noting that a two-tire stop with 63 laps to go paid off in track position but left him unable to run with Gordon, who had taken on four fresh tires at the time.

When Gordon pulled away on another restart with eight laps to go, the outcome was clear. The 11th caution with a lap to go finished the race.

"There's so many sweet things about getting a victory early in the season, in the first third," Gordon said. "It means so much. It takes that weight off your shoulders. We've been close, and we let a few slip away."

Labonte, who won this race last year, held on for second, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third after having some bad luck near the end.

Earnhardt led three times for 195 laps but ran into the back of Ricky Craven's car during a restart with 55 laps to go. The crash helped drop Earnhardt to fifth, and he was thrilled to come back and finish third.

He also had a great seat for the exciting finish.

"It was pretty good racing, from where I was sitting," Earnhardt said. "There was a little bit of bumping and carrying on, but I guarantee you that three-quarters of the field would have done a whole lot worse."

In a season when he's paying more attention to points than he used to, the end result more than soothed Earnhardt's feelings about his crash. He trimmed 78 points off Matt Kenseth's lead in the standings. He's 51 behind Kenseth, with Gordon 139 behind and Jimmie Johnson 179 back.

Virginia natives Jeff Burton and Elliott Sadler finished fourth and fifth in Fords, and defending champion Tony Stewart was sixth in a Chevy.

Kenseth, who was lapped by Gordon on the 61st lap, finished 22nd. Only 12 cars were still on the lead lap when Gordon took the checkered flag.

Gordon led three times for 190 laps and won with an average speed of 75.557 mph. The race was slowed by caution flags for 64 laps, and the last lead change was the 14th among nine drivers.

Sterling Marlin finished seventh, followed by Rusty Wallace, Jimmie Johnson and Ken Schrader. Ricky Rudd was 11th.

NASCAR Winston Cup


1. (1) Jeff Gordon, Chevy, 500, $219,143.

2. (39) Bobby Labonte, Chevy, 500, $138,348.

3. (2) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevy, 500, $112,542.

4. (10) Jeff Burton, Ford, 500, $101,592.

5. (18) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 500, $98,950.

6. (8) Tony Stewart, Chevy, 500, $105,953.

7. (25) Sterling Marlin, Dodge, 500, $97,275.

8. (5) Rusty Wallace, Dodge, 500, $91,217.

9. (7) Jimmie Johnson, Chevy, 500, $70,250.

10. (4) Ken Schrader, Dodge, 500, $54,050.

11. (19) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 500, $78,650.

12. (9) Kenny Wallace, Dodge, 500, $68,225.

13. (31) Bill Elliott, Dodge, 499, $88,358.

14. (16) Terry Labonte, Chevy, 499, $78,581.

15. (6) Joe Nemechek, Chevy, 499, $53,750.

16. (29) Kevin Harvick, Chevy, 499, $87,678.

17. (24) Mark Martin, Ford, 499, $85,433.

18. (20) Greg Biffle, Ford, 499, $47,975.

19. (13) Jimmy Spencer, Dodge, 499, $63,575.

20. (37) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 499, $94,303.

21. (38) Robby Gordon, Chevy, 499, $75,262.

22. (34) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 499, $66,725.

23. (30) Michael Waltrip, Chevy, 499, $63,975.

24. (32) Steve Park, Chevy, 499, $74,562.

25. (12) Ward Burton, Dodge, 499, $82,931.

26. (35) Jeff Green, Chevy, 498, $56,825.

27. (17) Ricky Craven, Pontiac, 498, $67,010.

28. (36) Kurt Busch, Ford, 498, $64,910.

29. (14) Jack Sprague, Pontiac, 497, $44,725.

30. (40) John Andretti, Dodge, 497, $84,178.

31. (15) Dave Blaney, Ford, 497, $64,064.

32. (28) J. Benson, Pontiac, 496, $74,200.

33. (27) Tony Raines, Chevy, 496, $45,025.

34. (33) Kyle Petty, Dodge, 496, $55,000.

35. (21) Mike Skinner, Pontiac, 496, $46,950.

36. (22) Casey Mears, Dodge, 496, $54,400.

37. (41) Todd Bodine, Ford, 492, $43,850.

38. (3) Ryan Newman, Dodge, 436, brakes, $74,665.

39. (11) Jamie McMurray, Dodge, 319, engine failure, $43,740.

40. (23) Jeremy Mayfield, Dodge, 308, overheating, $51,665.

41. (26) Jerry Nadeau, Pontiac, 267, oil pump, $43,615.

42. (42) Derrike Cope, Chevy, 230, engine failure, $43,575.

43. (43) Hermie Sadler, Chevy, 133, engine failure, $42,866.

Race Statistics

• Average Speed of Race Winner: 75.557 mph.

• Time of Race: 3 hours, 28 minutes, 51 seconds.

• Margin of Victory: Under Caution.

• Caution Flags: 11 for 64 laps.

• Lead Changes: 14 among 9 drivers.

• Lap Leaders: J.Gordon 1-120; T.Stewart 121-131; R.Wallace 132-144; D. Earnhardt Jr 145-239; J.Gordon 240-295; S.Marlin 296-318; T.Labonte 319; D.Earnhardt Jr 320-349; K.Harvick 350-361; E.Sadler 362; K.Harvick 363; E.Sadler 364-367; D.Earnhardt Jr 368-437; B.Labonte 438-486; J.Gordon 487-500.

• Point standings: M.Kenseth, 1,330; D.Earnhardt Jr, 1,279; J.Gordon, 1,191; J.Johnson, 1,151; K.Busch, 1,125; K.Harvick, 1,097; T. Stewart, 1,092; M.Waltrip, 1,088; R.Craven, 1,082; E.Sadler, 1,055.

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