Jeff Gordon takes the Martinsville win

Jeff Gordon takes the Martinsville win

MARTINSVILLE, VA - Jeff Gordon nosed Bobby Labonte out of the way in the final laps of the Martinsville Winston Cup race to garner his first win since the win at Kansas end of September last year. It is the fifteenth time in the track's history...

MARTINSVILLE, VA - Jeff Gordon nosed Bobby Labonte out of the way in the final laps of the Martinsville Winston Cup race to garner his first win since the win at Kansas end of September last year. It is the fifteenth time in the track's history that the polesitter went on to claim the race victory.

"Bobby and I were having a lot of fun there at the end, bumping and rubbing," remarked Gordon on the incident. "He was doing everything he could. I didn't want to knock him out of the way too hard, but I did push him around a little."

Jeff Gordon.
Photo by Jim Redman.
Gordon piloted the No. 24 Hendrick Chevy past race leader Bobby Labonte on lap 486 with a bump-and-run to the No. 18 Gibbs Chevy. Just as Gordon pulled ahead for the lead, the No. 5 Hendrick Chevy of Terry Labonte spun, bringing out the yellow flag.

"I race guys the way they race me," Gordon commented on the pass for the win. "Bobby raced me clean, but he was definitely crowding me. He was cutting the entry of the corners pretty short. So, I got underneath him a couple times and knew that it was going to be pretty tough to do it without either running him up the track or us touching a little bit."

On the restart with eight laps to go, Gordon managed to gain a sizeable lead over Labonte. With three laps left, the No. 17 Roush Ford of Matt Kenseth connected with teammate Kurt Busch bringing out the last yellow of the day. There would not be enough time to restart the field under green, securing Gordon's 62nd career victory and his fourth at Martinsville.

"This team - I think they've been right there week in and week out to get a win," Gordon said. "We've been close and let it slip away and it's awesome to finally get it - especially early on."

Labonte, who took the lead from Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on lap 436 after a gutsy two-tire call in the pits, finished second.

"We've been running good week in and week out," stated Labonte. "But, I'd like to think that we've been competitive week in and week out. We didn't get a chance at Talladega to even get warmed up...and I screwed up at Texas and got the car too loose and spun out off of turn two, so we had two bad weekends.

"We needed a good rally today and today was a good day. We take it one race at a time, but feel like we've got a good race team."

Earnhardt, Jr. scored his career best Martinsville finish with a third place finish leading a race high 195-laps. Earnhardt, Jr. looks poised to make a championship run this season. It is Earnhardt, Jr.'s sixth top-six finish in the last seven events.

"Another good day for us," commented Earnhardt. "We had one of the cars to beat all day, a top-two or a top-three car. It seemed like Gordon and I traded off being the best car. On that restart, we had four fresh tires, and I felt like we could clear the lapped traffic and get past (Bobby) Labonte who only took two (tires). But, the 32-car (Craven) had some sort of big problem and almost took us out completely.

"I guess we're lucky to avoid a big-time wreck there, so I can't be too (mad) about the deal. I felt like once we dropped back, it was too hard to pass those guys in front of us to even have a chance at the win, but we tried hard to get what we could get. It was fun being up front. That's the most we've ever led here, and my guys have really built a great car for me to drive at this old place.

"We were the only team to get two top-five finishes here last year, so we were really focused on continuing that streak. It's a tough track, and you really have to be on for 500 laps to avoid getting the car beat up. You can come in with all the confidence in the world, but it takes almost no time to be taken out of the race."

Jeff Burton was fourth, and Elliott Sadler fifth.

Elliott Sadler.
Photo by Autostock.
Sadler raised the ire of Tony Stewart on the final laps, as he knocked the No. 20 Gibbs Chevy out of the way to advance his position. Stewart attempted to repay the debt, but the late race yellow prevented him from exacting his revenge. Stewart wound up sixth.

"Well, I mean, we knew we were coming to the caution and that was the last lap," Sadler defended. "I was racing the 99, Jeff and I were laughing about it, the 20 probably didn't know we were that close. He was trying to block both of us and he left the inside lane open, so I stuck it in there. I wanted to get these guys a top five, they deserved it and I did whatever I had to do.

"Tony would have done the same thing. I didn't spin him out, I just moved him up a little bit. I had fun racing with Jeff Burton and all these guys all day. It was a great finish. This M&M's team is awesome. I told them, 'Man, if I can finish in the top five here, you all definitely know what you're doing.'"

Current point's leader, Kenseth's 22nd place finish, puts Earnhardt, Jr. within 51-points of the lead. Gordon's victory scoots him up two positions in the standings to third. Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson sits fourth, and Kurt Busch fifth.

"You do the best job you can do every week," said Kenseth. "You never want to run bad, so you just go and do the best job you can do every week and that's all you can do."

Winston Cup drivers get some rare time off next weekend for the Easter holidays. The season restarts in two-weeks in Fontana, California.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Elliott Sadler , Jim Redman