J. Gordon gets touch back

Downturn ends with Subway 500 win in Virginia


MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Remember Jeff Gordon?

You know, the senior statesman of NASCAR, the four-time champion who seemed to be fading fast at the age of 34? Who after 72 career wins dropped off the radar screen this summer, not even making the Chase for the Nextel Cup?

Well, make that 73 career victories.

Gordon surged back yesterday to win the Subway 500 by surprising Tony Stewart, who dominated the first 300 laps of the race, and then holding off Stewart on the final restart with three laps to go.

Gordon's fourth win of the season, but his first since Talladega, Ala., 23 races ago, back on May 1, didn't do him any good toward a championship.

"It's been a while," Gordon said. So long, in fact, that he added, "I don't remember whether here in the spring [actually, his next-to-last win] or Talladega was the last one."

He couldn't keep teammate Jimmie Johnson tucked behind him long enough for second place. Stewart got past Johnson for second with 10 laps to go and took sole possession of the lead in the Chase. With four races left in the playoff arrangement, Stewart leads Johnson by 15 points.

But yesterday, Gordon and Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports team got to celebrate in Victory Lane.

A year ago, when Johnson won this race, tragedy struck. The team was excused from the winner's celebration after it was told that a Hendrick plane was missing. It had crashed near here, killing all 10 people aboard - family, friends and employees of the Hendrick organization.

"This brings back a lot of memories, with what happened a year ago," Gordon said as Johnson joined him in Victory Lane. "We just want to keep honoring those folks who were lost."

Of his own individual tailspin, with poor finishes and awful luck since May, Gordon said: "It's been a tough year, and we certainly could use a win.

"I knew Tony was going to be tough [at the finish] and that he'd come after us. I got a good restart, but he could just drive in a little bit deeper than me and he could get to me. But when I got on the gas I could really drive away [off the corners]. I was just thankful we didn't use up my rear bumper, because he was awful close a couple of times."

Stewart and Greg Biffle exchanged some insults after Biffle held up both Stewart and Johnson on late restarts and allowed Gordon to get away. Stewart and Biffle at one point slammed fenders repeatedly.

"He's an idiot," Stewart said of Biffle. "No wonder Kevin Harvick [who has feuded with Biffle for years] has wanted to kill him so many times. The guy's a lap down, he's fighting to stay on the lead lap and that's understandable. But it's not like the second lap-down car was right behind him. There was plenty of room to let us go.

"He held up Jimmie first and then he held me up. He kept both of us from getting an opportunity [to win]."

Countered Biffle: "Tony has a problem with running you into the fence the second he gets position. We were running side by side and he started running me into the fence."

Stewart was trying to get by, to get a shot at Gordon.

"They name streets after guys like that - `One Way,' and `Dead End,' " Stewart said. "He's a nice guy. I like him and I play poker with him. But if he came over here right now, I'm afraid I'd have to strangle him."

Gordon said at one point he considered moving over to let Johnson lead for a short period, to collect five bonus points for the sake of the championship standings.

"We did talk about it on the radio and there were only 20 laps to go, and if something worked out where we could really pull away from those guys, I was definitely thinking about giving him a lap. Those five points come in handy for that championship, and it just didn't work out. The 20 [Stewart] got by him, and then I don't know what happened."

Ed Hinton is a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel.


NASCAR Nextel Cup

Points leaders

Driver (Prev. Pos.) Points Wins Top 5 Top 10

Tony Stewart (1) 5,957 5 16 22

Jimmie Johnson (2) 5,942 4 12 20

Ryan Newman (4) 5,894 1 8 15

Greg Biffle (3) 5,874 5 13 18

Carl Edwards (6) 5,808 2 10 14

Rusty Wallace (7) 5,791 0 8 17

Mark Martin (5) 5,787 1 9 16

Kurt Busch (10) 5,785 3 9 17

Matt Kenseth (9) 5,785 1 9 14

Jeremy Mayfield (8) 5,741 1 4 8

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