Martinsville NAPA AutoCare 500 Story

Martinsville, VA---Despite losing his crew chief this week, it was business as usual for Jeff Gordon Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. With new crew chief Brian Whitesell calling the shots, Gordon held off a furious charge by Dale...

Martinsville, VA---Despite losing his crew chief this week, it was business as usual for Jeff Gordon Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. With new crew chief Brian Whitesell calling the shots, Gordon held off a furious charge by Dale Earnhardt to win the final NASCAR Winston Cup short track race of the millennium, the $1,930,531 NAPA AutoCare 500. Ray Evernham, who left the team this week to pursue other interests after helping Gordon to 47 victories and three championships, was replaced by Whitesell. "Jeff and the team got the job done," Whitesell said. "Brian did a great job and I'm really proud of him," Gordon said. "Our communication was great. And the team never lost faith in themselves." Gordon, in the DuPont Automotive Finishes Chevrolet, beat Earnhardt's GM Goodwrench Chevrolet to the finish line by .198 seconds. Geoffrey Bodine was third in a fine run followed by Rusty Wallace and Kenny Wallace. Winning for the sixth time this season and for the third time at Martinsville, Gordon took the lead on the 476th lap and held off Earnhardt in a usual wild Martinsville shootout before 81,000. "In the late run, I tried to keep the car on the bottom of the track because I knew it would be close," Gordon said. "It's probably the smoothest I've ever had to drive a race car." He won $110,090. Earnhardt battled a stomach virus all day. "I've got some kind of flu bug," he said, "Jeff just played the traffic right. I just got up to him too late." There were 17 lead changes among 11 drivers with Gordon leading a total of 29 laps. Mike Skinner led the most laps with 138 while Bobby Labonte led 120, pole winner Joe Nemechek 76, Kenny Wallace 56, Earnhardt 45, Sterling Marlin 22, Kyle Petty five, John Andretti four, Ted Musgrave three and Bodine two. Winston Cup point leader Dale Jarrett finished tenth, one lap down, and has a 251 point lead over Labonte. It was a typical Martinsville race that saw the .526-mile track create rubbed fenders, raw nerves and eight caution flags for 75 laps. Tony Stewart, who had tangled with Kenny Irwin, Jr., in incidents that saw Irwin spin out on the 30th lap and the 133rd lap, was involved in another confrontation with him 15 laps later and wound up in the first turn wall along with Brett Bodine. When Irwin passed on the track under caution, Stewart tried unsuccessfully to throw a punch through the right side window but Irwin pulled quickly away. "It's the same thing when we ran sprint cars," Stewart said. He didn't like to be behind me then either. The first time I turned him around it was my fault. I'll admit that. I didn't mean to get into him and barely touched him and turned him around. It was my fault and I told my spotter to tell his spotter that it was my fault and I didn't mean to do it. "The second time, he leaned on me coming off one and about spun me coming off two. We got down to three and four and I hit him back and spun him. He decided to make sure he took me out for good." Irwin saw it differently. "I just drove him like he drove me," he said. "It's pretty evident I just treated him exactly like he treated me. It's happened before. Tony and I have raced together for a long time (in sprint cars) so we'll just see what happens." And what did Stewart say when he stuck his head in the window? "Nothing that I can say right now," Irwin said. But the day finally belonged to Gordon. "This," he said, "is just a sign of good things to come."

Steve Sheppard Senior Director of Corporate Communications Martinsville Speedway http://www.martinsvillespeedway.com

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , John Andretti , Brett Bodine , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Mike Skinner , Geoffrey Bodine , Kyle Petty , Joe Nemechek , Kenny Wallace , Sterling Marlin , Ted Musgrave , Ray Evernham