J. Gordon finally winner in wild race

Sparks, curses fill air as slump comes to end

August 25, 2002|By Ed Hinton | Ed Hinton,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BRISTOL, Tenn. - Jeff Gordon is back.

The 31-race losing streak of NASCAR's winningest active driver ended last night as he first dominated, then fought his way back in a wild, crash-filled Sharpie 500.

A furious Rusty Wallace, whom Gordon bumped and passed for the lead with two laps to go, fumed that, after the pass, "I was trying desperately to [beat him badly]. I just couldn't catch him."

Gordon made no apology. During the final scramble, "Rusty closed the door on me and I said, `All right, that's fair game.' He got a little loose and I got into him a little bit."

The race turned crazy with only 130 of the 500 laps left at Bristol Motor Speedway. Before that, it had been a spirited but sane duel between Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

But they were shuffled back when they pitted under a caution on Lap 371, while a large contingent stayed on the track.

From that point, bedlam prevailed, putting 160,000-plus fans in a Wrestlemania mood. As sparks flew, fenders crunched and tempers boiled, Gordon slugged his way from 10th back to first.

After crossing the finish line, he coasted around the track as his crew celebrated.

"You were like a man on the mission tonight, baby. Beautiful," crew chief Robbie Loomis said. "The winless streak is over. What are they going to write about now?"

After a series of burnouts, Gordon drove to victory lane and jumped into the arms of car owner Rick Hendrick.

"I just wanted to take advantage of an opportunity. These guys deserved a win. We don't deserve to be written about this losing streak, so I'm glad it's over," Gordon said.

Gordon, who recorded his 59th career victory and has four Winston Cup championships, first was involved in a dogfight with Earnhardt for nearly 300 laps, and then had a heated encounter with Kyle Petty.

Angry that Gordon wouldn't let him un-lap as a caution flag came out, Petty began slamming fenders with Gordon under caution. As the cautions kept coming on the rough-and-tumble track, Gordon then slowed to give Petty the lap back. But then Wallace, riding a 50-race winless streak, used the occasion to try to squeeze past Gordon. He didn't make it.

Ed Hinton is a reporter for the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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