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Jeff Gordon Wins the SaveMart/Kragen 350

By Frank Ryan
June 26, 200

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Rusty Wallace leads Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon walked away with his second victory of the year by winning the SaveMart/Kragen 350 at Sears Point Raceway Sunday afternoon. Gordon and his #24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Chevrolet led for 43 laps and was rarely out of contention, winning by more than 4 seconds in what can only be described as a lazy Sunday afternoon drive. Sterling Marlin and his Coors Light Chevrolet finished in 2nd place, with Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte and Ricky Rudd rounding out the top five.

The victory was Gordon's 6th straight road course win dating to the August 1997 Watkins Glen event. The win gives Gordon 51 in his career and is his second win this season under crew chief Robbie Loomis. 

Mark Martin leads Rusty Wallace

Rusty Wallace and the #2 Miller Lite Ford would start on the Bud pole for the 6th time this season. Wallace would lead for 11 laps, but a series of spins and pit mishaps would relegate him back to a 26th place finish.

The race was slowed by four full course cautions for 13 laps and a myriad of local yellow flags. The 1st full course yellow was brought out early when Kevin Lepage locked up his transmission and stalled on the track. The ensuing caution saw about two thirds of the cars pit, while 12 stayed on the track. Sterling Marlin, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin were among those who chose not to pit and gain valuable track position. 

Once the race returned to green flag racing the faster cars were forced to play catch up. On lap 15 Rusty Wallace got into the back of Brett Bodine turning him around in a torrent smoke and dust. As the most of the field braked hard to avoid the wreck, John Andretti was hit from behind and pushed forward into Bill Elliot. The impact broke an oil line on Andretti's #43 STP/Cheerios Pontiac and the car burst into flames before coasting to a stop inside of turn 7. Elliot's #94 McDonalds Ford suffered a broken right rear trunk arm and would lose a number of laps making repairs. Robbie Gordon was the big winner during the wreck as he was able to pass four cars on the grass missing the mishap.

With this being the last race with STP as the primary sponsor for the Richard Petty owned Pontiac it was hoped that they would go out in a blaze of glory, but I don't think the fireball was what everyone had in mind. (History Lesson: The #43 also burst into flames at the Atlanta Motor Speedway during the last race Richard Petty ever drove in Winston Cup)

In formation for the start

Sterling Marlin led the field to the green flag out of the second caution period. Jeff Gordon stayed in pursuit, but Marlin would lead 25 laps during the event, more than all of his previous 29 road course races combined.

In the racing that followed, Jerry Nadeau, Stacy Compton, Brett Bodine, Matt Kenseth, Elliot Sadler and Kenny Irwin brought out a number of local cautions because of spins. But all of the mishaps were minor and the event stayed at green flag racing. 

The 3rd caution was brought out on lap 58 when Brian Simo and the #90 Hills Bros. Coffee Ford stopped on the raceway with transmission problems. Scott Pruett and the #32 Tide Ford chose not to pit, and when racing resumed he sprinted off with the lead.

Staying out of trouble, and also managing to lead two laps was Tony Stewart. But Stewart was having trouble, battling the flu and feeling ill in the car, a call was put out for a relief driver to take over at the next caution. But Stewart was not to go away without a fight, and by lap 67 he was nose to nose with Pruett and moving into the lead. As Stewart tried to pass Pruett on the outside of turn 1, Pruett's car broke loose and bumped Stewart, causing Stewart to spin out. As Pruett continued on, Jeff Gordon got into the back of him, causing Pruett to lose control and gently crash into the tire barrier off of turn 3A. Pruett got the car straightened out and back under power, but something broke and after that it wouldn't turn. Pruett planted the car deep into the tire barrier in turn 10. It was hard enough to demolish the car and move the concrete barrier behind the tires in the process.

CART transplant Scott Pruett led until crashing out

Pruett's wreck brought out the 4th and final caution of the day. During the caution period Tony Stewart was relieved by fellow Pontiac driver John Andretti. Andretti would bring Stewart's #20 Home Depot Pontiac home in 10th place after rejoining the race in 27th position. During the caution all of the leaders pitted, but Kenny Wallace, Mike Skinner, Ward Burton, Sterling Marlin and Bobby Hamilton stayed on the track and traded tires and fuel for track position.

Kenny Wallace kept the lead for 16 laps, but Gordon took over on lap 80 and quickly opened up a 5 second lead. Gordon never looked back with his only nemesis being gas mileage and whether or not he would have enough fuel to finish the race. But the engine never sputtered and he motored across the finish line under full power.

With his 6th road course victory in a row, Jeff Gordon has established himself as the King of the road course specialists. The best way to describe Jeff Gordon on a road course is that it is like watching a summer rerun on TV, you know exactly how it is going to end.

Photos courtesy of MSI

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