Daytona Pepsi Chamionship Almost within Gordon's Grasp

Third championship almost within Gordon's grasp DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 14, 1998) Jeff Gordon's bid for a second consecutive NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship and third career title got a tremendous boost in the Winston 500 at Talladega...

Third championship almost within Gordon's grasp

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 14, 1998) Jeff Gordon's bid for a second consecutive NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship and third career title got a tremendous boost in the Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway this past Sunday.

In an exciting dash to the finish, Gordon placed second to winner Dale Jarrett, while Hendrick Motorsports teammate Terry Labonte took third. That result for Gordon was his 16th straight top-five finish and the fourth time in the last four races he has placed second.

Gordon's closest pursuer for the title, Mark Martin, looked as though he might trim some more points from Gordon's advantage as the race moved along, but Martin unfortunately was among those involved in a multi-car accident on lap 136. Martin finished the race in 34th place. Gordon thus gained 114 points on Martin Sunday, so Gordon's lead over Martin ballooned to 288 points (4,632-4,349) with only four races remaining.

While that lead is not insurmountable, the chances of Martin of overtaking Gordon for the championship at this point seem rather unlikely. Gordon only needs to finish at least 16th or better in each of the remaining events to nail down the title.

Gordon and team have been performing at a remarkable pace, especially in the past 16 races. Take a look at their record since the Michigan race in mid-June: Seven wins (of his total of 10 victories this season); five runner-up finishes, including second-place runs in four of the last five races; two third-place finishes; two fifth-place finishes and 16 consecutive top-five finishes.

Four of his seven pole positions have been recorded in that span and 12 times in the last 16 races, he has started races in the top five.

Among his seven wins, Gordon pocketed a million dollars twice in the "No Bull 5" competition, at Indianapolis and at Darlington.

He took over first place in points on June 28 and has held his grip on it since.

Gordon and the Rainbow Warriors now are working to post victory No. 11 on the year as they take aim at claiming the checkered flag in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway this Saturday night.

Facing their second restrictor-plate racing event in back-to-back weeks, they will also have to consider a strategy that will hopefully keep them out of any major accidents on the high-speed banks of Daytona. But Gordon's style is to "go for broke" on the track. If he has any opportunity whatsoever to run out front and grab off another win, he'll do it, and the Rainbow Warriors will lead the cheers for him.

Teammates Labonte and Gordon helped each other in the draft a few times during last Sunday's race, and ultimately Labonte finished third right behind Gordon. Labonte was the defending champ of the fall race at Talladega, and he fought tenaciously for victory, leading one time for seven laps.

The good finish pushed Labonte and his No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet to ninth place in the standings. He is looking to make another good run at Daytona to try to strengthen his bid to continue his string of placing in the top-10 in points at season's end, something he has done every year he has been with Hendrick Motorsports.

The Pepsi 400 will be Labonte s 599th-consecutive series start, a NASCAR record he continues to build on with each race.

Wally Dallenbach, in the No. 50 Budweiser Chevrolet, also had a very strong run at Talladega. At one point, all three HMS cars were in the top 10. Dallenbach had advanced from his 39th-starting position into the top 10, but he was one of those caught up in the big wreck, and he was unable to continue in the race, ultimately finishing 39th.

But knowing they had a contending race car on the superspeedway means Dallenbach and the Bud Brigade will be expecting to make another strong effort in the Daytona event this week.

Meanwhile, out West, Hendrick Motorsports truck driver Jack Sprague, pilot of the No. 24 GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, re-claimed the overall points lead from rival Ron Hornaday.

Sprague encountered a shifter problem -- which was quickly overcome -- during the 77-lap Kragen/Exide 150 at the Sears Point road course in California. He was also penalized for speeding on pit road, but rallied to place ninth, while Hornaday's truck suffered a broken axle and later a burned rear-end gear.

Sprague's ninth-place finish pushed him back into the points lead over Hornaday by 18 points (3,595-3,577) with only three races remaining. Sprague hopes to build on that lead in this week's Dodge California Truckstop 300 at Mesa Marin Speedway in Bakersfield, Calif.

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Wally Dallenbach Sr. , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports