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Gordon ready to conserve By Shawn A. Akers FONTANA, Calif. (April 28, 1998) Like its sister track in Michigan, California Speedway is a track where fuel mileage can spell the difference between winning and losing. Nobody ...

Gordon ready to conserve By Shawn A. Akers FONTANA, Calif. (April 28, 1998)

Like its sister track in Michigan, California Speedway is a track where fuel mileage can spell the difference between winning and losing. Nobody knows that better than Jeff Gordon.

The driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet took the checkered flag in the inaugural California 500 presented by NAPA at the two-mile, Roger Penske-owned facility last year running on fumes. That race saw Mark Martin pit for fuel with 10 laps to go and then run out of gas with one lap remaining because his crew didn't get enough in the tank.

The DuPont team decided to take a gamble with their fuel situation, and won the roll of the dice with almost nothing to spare.

"I ran out (of fuel) after taking the checkered flag," the defending NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion said. "I ran out coming to Victory Lane. It was pretty close. The guys did an awesome job on telling me to conserve when they did, and (crew chief) Ray (Evernham) did an awesome job on how long he wanted me to wait to get enough fuel and still have the lead when we went out (on his last pit stop).

"They told me that Mark (Martin) was definitely going to have to come in. I wanted to draft off somebody that was at the speed I was. When I went by him, it made my car handling go away. I couldn't get very close to him, so it didn't do much good. I was like, 'if he doesn't pit, I'm going to be really mad'. He did have to pit. I had to let him go by."

Martin went to the front on lap 234, but pitted on lap 239, giving the lead back to Gordon, who led the final 10 laps before taking the victory. He had a huge lead on Hendrick Motorsports teammate Terry Labonte, but that lead began to dwindle when Gordon began to let up to save on gas.

Gordon eventually beat Labonte to the finish line by just over a second.

"Ray got me nervous," Gordon said. "I wasn't nervous until he started telling me to conserve, conserve, conserve. I kept watching Terry in my mirror. I was trying to conserve, but I didn't want him to catch up too much. I thought he might really have something for me if he caught me. I was just trying to keep the distance between us about the same. I could tell he was kind of conserving, too."

The race track, one of the new facilities on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit, was an instant hit with the drivers and race teams last year. Gordon and the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet crew were certainly no exception.

"Everybody all weekend long complimented it, from the fans, the drivers, the crew members and even the sponsors were real happy with everything," Gordon said. "To go out there and have a good race just topped it off. The track really came in great for it to be the first race, and I think you're only going to see better things come after you have the Indy cars and the trucks and the Busch cars."

Gordon came into last year's California 500 with the lead in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings, and left with a bigger lead over Martin. Things are a bit different in the early going in 1998.

Although he's won two of the nine races so far this season, Gordon has struggled a bit by his standards. He's fifth in the point standings heading into the California 500, and his last win was March 29 at Bristol.

Rusty Wallace, although he hasn't won a race yet this year, has been the top dog for most of the season. He leads the point standings, with Penske-Kranefuss teammate Jeremy Mayfield in second, Labonte in third and Dale Jarrett fourth. Martin is sixth.

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Terry Labonte , Jeremy Mayfield , Rusty Wallace , Roger Penske , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports