2011-03-03 / Sports

Jeff Gordon Pulls Away For Phoenix Win

By Gerald Hodges
THE RACING REPORTER

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Jeff Gordon is back.

Gordon, who led 168 of the 312-lap Subway Fresh 500 at Phoenix on Sunday, caught and passed Kyle Busch on lap 308, then pulled away for his first win in 66 races.

“Are you kidding me, it’s been way too long,” said Gordon, who started the race 20th. “Ooh, this feels good. I didn’t care how we did it, I just wanted to get to victory lane.”

Gordon had lost the lead during a round of pit stops, but on lap 308, he was able to squeeze under Kyle Busch’s No. 18 as the two cars went into turn 1. That was enough to loosen Busch’s car up, and Gordon sailed by.

Busch was not able to regain his momentum and had to settle for second.

“We came through a lot of adversity during the race,” said Busch. “We had good pit stops, but Jeff ran me down and passed. He had the fastest car.”

Busch got into the polesitter, Carl Edwards, forcing Edwards to pit for extensive repairs to his No. 99.

“I really hate what happened between me and the 99 car,” continued Busch. “I really hate that I got into him after he raced me so clean in the Nationwide race.”

On lap 59, Edwards saw his day go sour after Kyle Busch veered hard left into his No. 99 Ford along the backstretch. Edwards ran through the dogleg grass and into the wall.

“Hopefully that was an inadvertent move on Kyle’s part. I’ll talk to him and we’ll deal with it accordingly,” Edwards said.

After watching a replay of the incident, Edwards added, “I thought at first he was just frustrated and he turned left to get back in line and he didn’t know I was there, but I watched the tape and I think he really did get loose.”

Brian Vickers triggered a 13-car pileup on the backstretch after his left rear tire went down.

Vickers blamed it on Matt Kenseth. “Matt wrecked us,” Vickers said. “He just doorslammed us in the corner. It’s gonna come back to him.”

A red flag lasting 14 minutes was required to clean up the resulting mess. Several big-name drivers were involved: Vickers, Jamie Mc- Murray, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr. among them.

Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, A. J. Allmendinger, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were the remaining top-10 finishers.

Top-12 points leaders after 2 of 36: 1. Kyle Busch-80, 2. Kurt Busch-77, 3. Stewart- 69, 4. Allmendinger-69, 5. J. Gordon-65, 6. Martin-65, 7. B. Labonte-64, 8. Newman- 64, 9. Montoya- 64, 10. Gilliland-63, 11. Menard-63, 12. Edwards-59

Busch leads every Nationwide lap

Kyle Busch held off a challenge from Carl Edwards in the closing laps of Saturday’s Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 at Phoenix International Raceway to win his 44th Nationwide series race.

“First person I have to thank is Carl Edwards for racing me clean. He raced me hard, but raced me clean,” Busch said. “After that second long run, I was like, ‘Man, so far I’ve led every lap of this thing,’ and it came down toward the end of the race and Carl was alongside me and he was trying to pass me and I was like, ‘Man, just beat him back to the start-finish line, just beat him back to the start-finish line.”

“I was just trying to hold on for as long as I could. Finally, it seemed like it was about 15 laps or so that his stuff would just start falling off enough where we could start clicking back away and get away from him a little bit. I knew if I could just make it to that threshold, that I thought we’d be okay. Fortunately we got there. It was pretty cool. I love doing that stuff and being in the position where you’re the guy to beat.”

Busch became the first driver to lead every lap of an event in one of NASCAR’s top three series since Dale Earnhardt Jr. did it on July 4, 2003, in a Nationwide race at Daytona.

Edwards, who finished .514 seconds behind Busch, made a contest of the race over the final 20 laps, running side by side with Busch for extended stretches as the race neared its end.

The remaining top-10 finishers were Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Reed Sorenson, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse, Justin Allgaier, Brian Scott and Kenny Wallace.

Danica Patrick finished 17th, three laps down, and posted her third straight top-20 result in the series.

Top-10 points leaders after 2 of 34: 1. Reed Sorenson 78, 2. Ricky Stenhouse- 73, 3. Jason Leffler-71, 4. Danica Patrick-58, 5. Joe Nemechek 58, 6. Aric Almirola- 56, 7. Mike Bliss-55, 8. Justin Allgaier-53, 9. Kenny Wallace- 50, 10. Jeremy Clements-50

Kyle Busch dominates truck race

Busch beat polesitter Clint Bowyer to the checkered flag by .291 seconds, as Bowyer tightened the margin on the final lap of Friday night’s Camping World truck race at Phoenix

Ron Hornaday Jr. was third, followed by Johnny Sauter and Austin Dillon.

As full-time Sprint Cup drivers, Busch and Bowyer aren’t collecting points in the truck series. Consequently, seventh-place finisher Matt Crafton left Phoenix with a one-point lead over Clay Rogers in the series standings.

Top-10 points leaders after 2 of 25: 1. Matt Crafton- 71, 2. Clay Rogers-70, 3. Cole Whitt-68, 4. Johnny Sauter- 67, 5. Timothy Peters-66, 6. Austin Dillon-63, 7. Jeffrey Earnhardt-62, 8. Max Papis- 61, 9. Miguel Paludo-59, 10. Ron Hornaday-57

Commentary: This year’s Daytona 500 seemed to get NASCAR off to a good start. There was great fan enthusiasm, and with a 17 percent increase in television viewers, the season is looking good.

While the fan news appears to be positive, there was no optimism this past week for the Nationwide Series race at Phoenix.

Only 40 cars started the race, which was dominated by Kyle Busch. It was the first time Nationwide didn’t have a full 43-car field since February 2008 at California.

NASCAR officials believe the full-time move to the new Nationwide Series car and long travel distance to Phoenix contributed to the shortage of cars. In addition to having only 40 cars, there were five that parked within the first 20 laps.

“Long term, with the new car coming on board, we expected there will be some challenges for some of the smaller-budget teams to get up to speed, which you’re seeing,” NASCAR VP of Racing Operations Steve O’Donnell said.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see how the Nationwide Series shakes out, but most fans I talked with are more optimistic than in the past.

Weekend racing: It’s off to Las Vegas for the Cup and Nationwide teams. The truck teams have their first off weekend.

Sat., March 5, Nationwide Series, race 3 of 34; Starting time: 3 p.m.; TV: ABC.

Sun., March 6, Sprint Cup race 3 of 36; Starting time: 2 p.m.; TV: Fox.

All times are Eastern.

Racing trivia question: Which Cup team does Regan Smith drive for?

Last week’s question: Who is Kurt Busch’s teammate in the Cup series? Answer. It is Brad Keselowski.

Contact the Racing Reporter at: hodges@race500.com.

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