May 8 – – Another week and another close call for Jeff Gordon in the hopes of breaking his year-long winless drought. Gordon finished 4th in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway after leading a race-high 111 laps. Gordon’s fate was sealed with a late-race mental error coming onto pit road and then an ill-timed caution flag. Nevertheless, his seventh straight top-5 at Darlington vaulted him to 4th in the NASCAR points standings.
Gordon started 2nd and wasted no time heading to the front by passing Jamie McMurray off turn four at the end of the first lap. Brian Vickers ran Gordon down and took the lead on lap 38. The first caution waved on lap 47 for Michael McDowell’s wall contact in turn two. The leaders came to pit road with Gordon holding the runner-up position. On the restart, Gordon dropped to 4th behind McMurray, Vickers, and Jeff Burton. Gordon took 3rd from Burton just before Joey Logano spun off turn four to bring out the second caution flag of the event. Gordon took 2nd from Vickers on the restart but lost the spot to Denny Hamlin on lap 67. The caution waved on lap 83 for Martin Truex and Jimmie Johnson getting sideways in turn four, which brought the lead lap cars to pit road. Gordon opted for two tires and departed in the 3rd position.
On lap 90, Gordon dove under McMurray to take 2nd place off turn four. He then closed in and passed Tony Stewart for the race lead on lap 91. Gordon led until Danny Hamlin took the lead on lap 141 after Gordon battled lapped traffic. Gordon pitted during a cycle of green flag pit stops on lap 147. Gordon ran 5 seconds behind Hamlin after the cycle of stops. Sam Hornish’s wall contact slowed the field and the leaders came to pit road on lap 174. A two-tire change followed and Gordon was 2nd off of pit road. A few laps after the restart, Jimmie Johnson and AJ Allmendinger wrecked in turn three. After an extended track clean-up, Gordon battled Kyle Busch for position on lap 190. The next caution came at lap 201 for Tony Stewart’s spin. Gordon came to pit road for a 2-tire change on the left side, and restarted in 12th place after 9 cars stayed on the track. Gordon was unhappy with the handling, but patiently worked his way back into the top-10 with 150 laps to go. A debris caution with 140 to go brought the leaders to pit road with Gordon in 9th place. Crew chief Steve Letarte opted for right side tires and Gordon departed in the 3rd position. He passed David Reutimann for the runner-up spot, and reeled in Jeff Burton for the race lead with 107 laps to go.
Gordon extended to a 4 second lead before Bobby Labonte and David Gilliland wrecked to bring out the caution with 86 laps to go. He changed four tires and dropped to 4th on the restart. With 65 to go, he took 3rd from Jamie McMurray, but ran distantly behind Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. Gordon and Burton slowly tracked down Busch and Gordon moved to 2nd with 55 to go. Ten laps later, Burton passed Gordon for 2nd place. Gordon slowed to come to pit road for a green flag stop, but missed the pit road entry. On his second try, he was caught on pit road when a caution flag waved. Gordon dropped to the last car on the lead lap. He restarted in 11th with 20 laps to go. Within three laps he moved to 8th, and took 7th from Ryan Newman with 15 to go. Gordon took 6th from Kyle Busch with 12 to go, and passed Kevin Harvick for 5th four laps later. He took 4th from Juan Pablo Montoya in the closing stages, but was distantly behind race winner Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray, and Kurt Busch at the finish.
“There were moments when we were awesome,” Gordon said. “On two tires we were great, on four we struggled. I just didn’t get slowed down good enough (coming to pit road). I don’t like making mistakes like that. If we got out front, I think we had something for them. But I’m happy that we drove up through there and got fourth.”
In Car Mp3
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