It took almost two years, but Jeff Gordon finally claimed his 83rd win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with his victory in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday.
"We just beat Kyle Busch," an excited Gordon told his No. 24 crew on the radio after taking the checkered flag.
Gordon led the most laps -- 138 of the 312-lap race -- but had to contend with Kyle Busch near the end. Andy Lally brought out a caution -- the eighth of the race -- with 27 laps to go, bunching the field up for a restart with 21 laps to go.
"I don't really care how we do it, we just want to get to victory lane. But to do it that way and to see the fans reaction .. I mean we beat Kyle Busch. We were the only one's to beat Kyle Busch this weekend and he's so tough to beat," Gordon smiled.
Stewart restarted in the top spot after taking only two tires during the caution, a move that resulted in a win for teammate Ryan Newman at PIR a year ago. Busch and Gordon got by Stewart quickly, though, and pulled away from the rest of the field to make it a two-man battle for the win.
"What a race car. Just so thankful. Alan Gustafson and this entire Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, gotta thank them. Pepsi and DuPont, man what an awesome, awesome feeling it is when you've got the car right like that and they give you 20 (laps) to go and its your job to go get it done and you've got what you need to go do that," said Gordon. "I thought even if i catch him what am I going to do with him? We caught him, he got loose and I got underneath him. I didn't know what to expect. I got into (turn) one and he was right on my door and I got loose and got up into him, they said clear, I went because I knew I needed to get away from him as fast as I could. God it feels so amazing."
Gordon was able to get by Busch with eight laps to go and pulled away to claim his first win in 67 races. "I can't tell you how amazing this feels. So thankful to Rick Hendrick, all that he does. It's been a long time I know. I'm going to savor this one so much, but I've got to say thanks to the fans. I mean not only the fans at home .. I've been tweeting lately for the first time and all of the stuff that people have been saying, the motivation has been unbelievably inspiring and then to see that crowd stick around to see my really lame burnout because i stink at them but they love that show. Man we hope we can give them some more shows like that this year. That was awesome, thank you so much."
Busch finished second and said, "I think he was on a mission today, that's for sure and when Jeff Gordon has a good car and he has the opportunity to beat you, he's going to beat you so. There's no doubt about that. He's my hero and I've always watched him and what he's been able to accomplish over the years. It's no surprise that he beat us. You know, we were good. If you look at it, we were better than the third place car by a little ways, kind of like yesterday. Seemed like front two would just kind of walk away from it. But there's always that one car that's got to ruin the whole weekend, and it had to be the 24 car."
Busch was referring to the the fact that he just missed landing the triple after taking the NASCAR Truck and Nationwide series races at PIR. "But you know, it is what it is, and unfortunately we come home second. We missed the chance of a sweep, but you know, all things considering and what we are going after for this year, we would have loved to have gotten a win with our Combos Camry today but we'll take that and head on home to Vegas."
Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, finished third. "We just needed laps. We were struggling and getting smarter through practice. The first half of the race we could not really get going, just way too loose and we pitted every caution that there was. And at one point we thought we were going to be out of tires because we came to pit road so many times."
Johnson added, "So we had a good day. On the short run I think the 18 and the 24 had us beat. Longer we went, the more our car kind of tightened up and I seemed to be a little closer to these guys. But third was really where we ran all day and where we deserved to finish."
Kevin Harvick was fourth and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five.
Kasey Kahne was sixth, Stewart seventh, Kurt Busch eighth, A.J. Allmendinger ninth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. overcame an early-race pit road speeding penalty and an unscheduled green-flag pit stop to finish in the 10th spot.
The Subway Fresh Fit 500 produced heavy attrition, as it was marred by eight cautions, one of them involving 13 cars on lap 67 and turning into a 14-minute red flag period after a spin by Brian Vickers that collected much of the field.
The winner and second-place finisher of the race weren't even immune to the attrition. On lap 61, Kyle Busch made contact with Carl Edwards, sending Edwards into the inside curb and then up into the path of oncoming traffic. One of the drivers Edwards hit on his return up the track was Gordon.
"I'm not exactly sure what happened," Edwards said of the lap 67 incident. "I'll have to talk to Kyle about it."
After the race, Busch commented on the incident with Edwards: "Unfortunately there, the car got out from underneath me right around the backstretch and I made a mistake and got into Carl Edwards there and completely destroyed his day so. I can understand his frustration that he had and so I apologize to him first and foremost."
Drivers involved in at least one of the cautions on the day include Robby Gordon, Trevor Bayne, Travis Kvapil, Edwards, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Brian Vickers, Clint Bowyer, Regan Smith, David Ragan, David Reutimann, Casey Mears, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano and Lally.