Gordon gambles, sneaks into top-10 By Matthew Leach HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Nov. 14, 1999) Only one thing surprised Jeff Gordon in the inaugural Pennzoil 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It wasn't that Tony Stewart became the first rookie in NASCAR...
Gordon gambles, sneaks into top-10 By Matthew Leach
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Nov. 14, 1999) Only one thing surprised Jeff Gordon in the inaugural Pennzoil 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It wasn't that Tony Stewart became the first rookie in NASCAR Winston Cup Series history to win three times in the same season, and it wasn't that Dale Jarrett sewed up the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series title with one race still to be run. It wasn't even the 185 green-flag laps the teams ran before the first caution flag flew on the slick, flat track.
The biggest surprise to Gordon was this: before the race, the two-time defending series champion thought he had some chance at a win. Instead, he struggled in the tail end of the top-20 all afternoon before sliding into 10th place in the final rundown on a successful fuel gamble. Unofficially, Gordon fell to sixth in the series standings, two points behind Jeff Burton, who finished third.
But the result could have been much worse.
Gordon went the entire final green-flag run, 77 laps of full-speed racing around the 1.5 mile oval, on a single tank of fuel, running out as he crossed the finish line. Adding to the curious sequence of events was Gordon's near-giddiness at finishing 10th.
"We're really thrilled to pull off a top-10," Gordon said. "Thank goodness for fuel mileage. I've been on the other side of it before, where I said, 'Man, how'd those guys go that far on fuel mileage?' Now I know. They ran really bad all day long and didn't go very fast and were able to get really good fuel mileage."
Gordon stretched his mileage further than most even in the early going, leading the race briefly on pit sequence. But during the long green-flag runs, he bounced around: 17th, 18th, 15th, never in contention but never more than a lap down. The 24 played a role it almost never does: it was a non-factor.
"We weren't very good in practice yesterday," Gordon said, "but they dropped the green and we jumped up there to sixth and stayed there for a little while. And then gradually, that's when those guys came on and we started falling back."
When the event's only yellow flag flew, on lap 185 for oil put down by Ricky Rudd's car, the DuPont team took a big chance. They decided to try to make it the rest of the way on fuel, aiming if not for a win then at least for a decent finish.
So as car after car dipped into the pits, for fuel and usually two tires, Gordon stuck it out. He picked up position after position, even climbing into ninth for a brief moment. Even so, there was no disappointment in finishing 10th.
There was also no frustration about watching someone else celebrate a championship for the first time since 1996. Gordon has known for quite some time that he would not win a third straight championship, so he was much more happy for a respected rival than bitter about passing over his crown.
"They're a class act, very professional," Gordon said of Jarrett, crew chief Todd Parrott and 88 owner Robert Yates. "They've done a great job this year of being very consistent, not having many failures if any. You know, he's been knocking on the door, and this is his year, that's for sure. I'm real proud of him, and he's gonna make a great champion."