The eight-time NASCAR road course winner finds lack of ventilation to be a bigger worry than the competition.
By Associated Press
Published June 28, 2004
SONOMA, Calif. - For Jeff Gordon, this victory was far more difficult than it looked.
"Not only was the car nearly out of gas, but I was out of gas, too," Gordon said after driving to an overpowering win Sunday in the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.
It was the perfect end to a nearly perfect weekend in which the four-time NASCAR champion earned the pole with a record-setting lap, topped every practice session and set another record by leading 92 of 110 laps on the 1.99-mile, 10-turn road course.
Gordon picked up his fourth Infineon victory, winning for the third time from the pole. He also extended his Nextel Cup record for road racing wins to eight. He has three wins this season and 67 for his career.
Nobody had a real challenge for Gordon on Sunday. His only real problem was the heat.
As temperatures at the scenic wine country circuit neared 90 degrees, the ventilation system in Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet became as overpowered as his competition.
"Today, I was challenged by my physical fitness," Gordon said. "Those cautions we had with about 40 and 30 laps to go really helped me a lot. It gave me a chance to get a few moments to relax and it gave the crew a chance to give me some ice packs and cool me down a little."
The late yellow flags also helped Gordon with another possible problem as crew chief Robbie Loomis cautioned him constantly on the radio to conserve gas.
"I was shutting the engine off rolling downhill and conserving any way I could," said Gordon, whose last pit stop came on Lap 68.
Gordon beat Jamie McMurray, who was strong in only his second start at Sonoma, by 1.032 seconds, or about 10 car-lengths, with road racing specialist Scott Pruett third.
McMurray said he never thought he had a shot at Gordon.
"I knew Jeff was going to have to run off the track or goof up and, typically, he doesn't do that," McMurray said. "I was just waiting on him to make a mistake, but I was driving as hard as I could. ... We were just hanging on."
Kurt Busch started third and vaulted past both Gordon and Rusty Wallace to grab the lead on the first lap, but Gordon quickly moved back to the top and stayed there the rest of the way except during pit stops.
He made his final stop 68 during one of six caution periods. When he got back on track, Gordon found himself behind Casey Mears and rookie Kasey Kahne, both of whom had pitted earlier.
Gordon quickly disposed of Kahne on the restart on Lap 70, but it took him four more laps to work past former open-wheel racer Mears. Once Gordon got back on top, he was not challenged again.
McMurray passed Wallace and Mears to grab second on Lap 79, then spent the rest of the race trying without success to cut into Gordon's lead.
Wallace was fourth until his car ran out of gas a lap from the end. He wound up 28th as Michael Waltrip, who started 40th in the 43-car field, took over fourth. Series leader Jimmie Johnson, Gordon's teammate, finished fifth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. recovered from two spins to finish 11th, but fell from seven to 27 points out of first in the standings.
Boris Said, another road racing specialist, finished sixth, followed by Mears, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Elliott Sadler, rounding out the top 10.