August 25, 2002
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Jeff Gordon snapped his 31-race victory drought Saturday night, bumping his way past Rusty Wallace with three laps to go to win the Sharpie 500.
After crossing the finish line, Gordon coasted around Bristol International Speedway as his crew celebrated over the radio.
"You were like a man on a 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 his Chevrolet 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. "It feels like my first win!"
Wallace, riding a 50-race winless streak, finished second and wasn't pleased with Gordon's bump-and-run, claiming Gordon wouldn't have gotten past his Ford without a tap.
"It's been a long time since I won, but it's been a long time since Jeff won, too, and he wanted it bad," Wallace said. "I guess my day's coming. I got nailed in the rear end and got turned sideways and didn't expect it. I tried hard to nail him back but never could get to him."
Gordon, the four-time and defending Winston Cup champion, said he had to do it to get his 59th career victory, first since Sept. 30, 2001, and fifth at Bristol but first in the night race.
"He got bottled up in some traffic and I knew if I could get to him, I could make a pass," Gordon said. "I got into him a little bit, he got loose and I hope he'll understand tomorrow."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third and Kevin Harvick fourth in Chevrolets, and Matt Kenseth was fifth in a Ford.
Sterling Marlin, who has retained the points lead despite engine failures in two of the previous three races, finished seventh despite having bad luck in the pits.
He was running in 23rd when he pitted on Lap 58 for a tire change, but he pulled away before the jack had been removed. He dragged it down pit road, then it got loose and rolled down the road. Marlin had to go back into the pits for a stop-and-go penalty and was in 37th place when he got back out onto the track.
He now has a 95-point advantage over Mark Martin.
Gordon jumped from fifth to third and is 111 points back.
Tony Stewart, the defending race champion, had his night ruined when he slightly tapped Jerry Nadeau under caution. Stewart, in ninth before the contact, had to pit for repairs to his oil line and went back out three laps down. He finished 24th.
As usual, the race was rough and marred by 15 cautions. Because of the tight confines on the .533-mile oval, bumping and banging is common and tempers usually flare.
Elliott Sadler blamed Joe Nemechek for ending his night. Hut Stricklin sarcastically applauded as Jeremy Mayfield passed him after Mayfield's contact ended Stricklin's night. Ward Burton threw the heat shields from his shoes at Earnhardt after their contact.
Jimmie Johnson flipped his middle finger at Robby Gordon after Gordon hit him on a restart and sent him into the wall. NASCAR then called Robby Gordon into the pits for a two-lap penalty for rough driving.