Gordon wins easily at Pocono Winston Cup victory is his fifth of season

June 17, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

LONG POND, Pa. -- Seven-time Winston Cup champion Richard Petty once said the best thing for racing would be to make it very boring. By that, he meant have the same guy win every week.

"It would draw attention to the sport," said Petty, whose 200 victories illustrate just how much he wanted to help his sport. Petty, of course, no longer races. But Jeff Gordon does, and he, it turns out, is a growing disciple of Petty's philosophy.

Yesterday, starting from the pole for the third straight race, Gordon won the UAW-GM Teamwork 500 with ease.

It was Gordon's first victory on the newly paved, 2.5-mile trioval at Pocono International Raceway, but it was his second straight victory on the Winston Cup circuit and his fifth win of the season. No other driver has won more than twice.

"The last thing going through my mind is to make it as great of a race as possible," said Gordon, who averaged 139.104 mph in his DuPont Chevrolet. "We don't go out there to entertain the people in the grandstands. I think what draws the people is that this racing is very competitive. . . . But if I've got anything to do with it, I'm going to make it as boring as I can, because I want to win the race.

"I don't know if I want to win by 10 seconds every week, but, hey, if the car is that great, I'm going to try to, and there isn't anyone else out there who's going to do it any different. No one is going to back off to make it close."

Yesterday, the victory margin was 3.688 seconds, but to second-place finisher Ricky Rudd, trying to win at least one race for the 13th straight season, it probably seemed like 10 seconds. Over the final 28 laps, no one got close enough to sow any doubt about the final outcome.

Geoff Bodine led for 12 laps and finished third, ending on the lead lap for the first time this season. Mark Martin and Bobby Hamilton rounded out the top five.

"Our toughest challenge came from Rusty Wallace," Gordon said of the Ford driver who developed clutch problems when he exited the pits on Lap 131 and wound up in 31st place. "He was real strong off the third turn. . . . I figured we were going to have to get him in the pits, if we were going to get him at all. Fortunately, it didn't come down to that."

But when Wallace then was referred to as the car to beat, Gordon quickly cleared up any misconceptions.

"I think we were the car to beat," he said, "but Rusty was our toughest competitor."

There was only one shaky moment for Gordon, on the first lap. He took the lead into the first turn and then nearly crashed going into Turn 2.

"I drove in there too fast, and the thing slid out from under me and I thought, 'This isn't going to be too good if I crash on the first lap,' " said Gordon, who regained control and kept going.

Gordon was 43rd in the Winston Cup points standings when he got his first win three weeks into the season in Richmond, Va. Since then, the defending Winston Cup champion has been charging hard, winning five of the past 12 races.

Yesterday, with points leader Dale Earnhardt dropping out early with engine trouble, Gordon chopped 118 points from Earnhardt's lead to close within 64. Terry Labonte, the only driver now between Earnhardt and Gordon in the standings, closed within 52 points of the leader and is 12 points ahead of Gordon.

"I think we broke a valve," said Earnhardt, who finished 32nd. "Maybe we'll have better luck at Michigan next week. But this really hurts. The Kid's team doesn't seem to miss a beat."

And that, of course, is Gordon's game plan.

"I don't know if you're ever flawless," he said. "But this team is certainly doing some unbelievable things. . . . The fact we've won five races just blows me away."

NOTES: Dale Jarrett, driving with a fractured rib and a broken bone in his knee, had a short day. His car's engine failed 37 laps into the race, relegating him to 38th. . . . Gordon led 94 laps and won $96,980, making his season earnings $1,069,482. . . . Ken Schrader had bad luck on his first pit stop when a crewman allowed a tire to roll away from his pit. NASCAR assessed a stop-and-go penalty. He finished 18th. . . . Sixteen cars finished on the lead lap. . . . There were four caution flags for 23 laps. . . . The race was run in 3 hours, 35 minutes, 40 seconds.

1. (1) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 200, $96,980, 139.104; 2. (9) Ricky Rudd, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $52,900; 3. (26) Geoff Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $54,700; 4. (6) Mark Martin, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $38,975; 5. (15) Bobby Hamilton, Pontiac Grand Prix, 200, $31,875; 6. (27) Morgan Shepherd, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $19,305; 7. (11) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 200, $29,905; 8. (18) Jimmy Spencer, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $24,205; 9. (16) Jeff Burton, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $16,605; 10. (24) Todd Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $26,405

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