It may have been a new car, but for Jeff Gordon, it was the same old result as he claimed the checkered flag in the Dodge Avenger 500 at Darlington Raceway on Mothers' Day. Gordon, who leads all active drivers with seven wins at Darlington, ...
It may have been a new car, but for Jeff Gordon, it was the same old result as he claimed the checkered flag in the Dodge Avenger 500 at Darlington Raceway on Mothers' Day.
Gordon, who leads all active drivers with seven wins at Darlington, took the lead from teammate Jimmie Johnson when he stayed out during a late race caution and cruised to his third win in the past four races.
The win also gave Gordon his second victory in five races with the new Car of Tomorrow.
"We had our hands full today," Gordon said in victory lane. "It wasn't pretty. We had a great car, but we didn't have the track position. When Jimmie Johnson and those guys came in to pit, it was just a great call by (crew chief) Steve Letarte."
Gordon's DuPont Chevy was spouting steam from the overflow in the closing laps and he was surprised that it made it to the end.
"Obviously the first thing I need to do is thank the guys at the Hendrick engine shop," said Gordon. "There is no way that thing ever should have made it. We were pegged on all the gauges. When you see the water pressure go up that high and it's spewing out water, there is no way that thing should make it."
With the win, Gordon extended his points lead over Johnson to 231 and picked up another 10 bonus points towards the Chase for the Championship.
"What an amazing year we're having," Gordon said. "This is so much fun. What an awesome race team. It's just unbelievable when you win races like this."
Sophomore Denny Hamlin had the dominant car early in the day. Hamlin, who won the Busch Series race at Darlington on Friday, started seventh on Sunday but was leading the race by lap 35. He held the lead until making a scheduled green flag pit stop on lap 101 and then reclaimed the lead from Carl Edwards on pit road during a yellow flag stop on lap 118. He led a career-high 178 laps, but suffered from a couple of miscues in the pits and finished second.
"I should be happy for the second, but this has got to end," said Hamlin, who has led laps in six of the past seven races but is looking for his first win since Pocono last August. "We've got to win a race sooner or later, but we keep giving them away. Everyone is going to talk about how Hendrick won another race, but this was our race."
Johnson used the lapped car of Juan Montoya as a pick and cruised past Hamlin on lap 300. He led the race through a pair of cautions, but elected to pit for fresh tires when the yellow came out for debris with 23 laps to go. His teammate stayed out and took advantage of the track position to claim the win.
"It was a long day out there," said Johnson, who finished third and picked up his fourth straight top five finish. "Now that it's over, I can say it was fun, but when I was out there it wasn't fun. I made a mistake early and hit the wall and we had to come back from that. I was really happy to be back in it by the end."
Clint Bowyer earned his first career pole on Friday and led the first 16 laps on Sunday before slipping back in the field with an ill-handling race car. He rebounded late in the race and finished ninth.
Ryan Newman enjoyed a strong race for the third straight week. He took the lead from Hamlin on lap 222 and then grabbed the point from Kenseth on lap 273. He finished a season-best fourth.
Carl Edwards led several laps during the first half of the race but was penalized for missing the commitment cone for pit road during a mid-race caution. He rallied back for a fifth place finish.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was making his first start since making the announcement on Thursday that he was leaving DEI after this season. He started 21st but quickly moved his way up through the field. He had jumped up to fifth place by the time the competition caution came out on lap 40.
"I'm pretty happy," said Earnhardt, who finished eighth. "My guys did a good job getting me a good car. We made a good call at the end to stay and that was our only chance at the win. We held off a couple of guys, but they were coming on pretty hard with new tires."
Greg Biffle started on the front row and was looking for his third straight win at Darlington but he slipped back early and finished 15th.
The race was originally scheduled for Saturday night, but heavy rainfall started about an hour before the green flag was scheduled to fly and forced the postponement. It was the first NASCAR race held on Mothers' Day since the all-star event in 1986.