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Gordon cashes in on charge

Jeff Gordon comes to the front late in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 and wins at what had been one of his weakest tracks.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 5, 2001

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Jeff Gordon, NASCAR's biggest star now that Dale Earnhardt is gone, reminded everyone how good he can be.

Gordon took the lead 20 laps from the end and drove away for an easy victory in Sunday's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"We weren't very good at the beginning," Gordon said. "The car was real, real tight in traffic and we were just struggling."

A two-tire stop in the middle of the race helped free up the car in the turns on the wide, banked 1 1/2-mile oval. He suddenly moved into contention with fewer than 100 laps left in the 267-lap event.

All the leaders pitted on Lap 178 during the last of six cautions, and Gordon's Chevrolet came out third behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jerry Nadeau and Sterling Marlin's Dodge.

Marlin took the lead on Lap 202, and Gordon got by Nadeau for second on the next lap. Gordon stalked Marlin, cutting steadily into his lead before charging past on Lap 225 to become the 12th different leader.

Gordon lost the lead for a while during a series of green-flag pit stops, but came back out on top on Lap 248 to take the lead from Matt Kenseth. Gordon pulled away from the second-place Ford of Dale Jarrett by about 15 car-lengths.

It was Gordon's first victory since September in Richmond, Va. Besides the first-place money, he got a $1-million bonus from series sponsor Winston.

"Winning at this racetrack today, as much as we've struggled here in the past, it means almost as much to me as the million dollars," said Gordon, who had finished 28th, third and 17th in the three previous Winston Cup events here.

The three-time series champion said the victory proves to him that his team is capable of racing for another title this year.

"If we can run this strong at a track like this, we're off to a good start," he said. "We just need to keep doing what we're doing and build on the momentum."

The win also broke a string of three straight Las Vegas victories by the Roush Racing Fords of Mark Martin and Jeff Burton.

Jarrett said the Fords race with an aerodynamic disadvantage because of rule changes that have given the other makes an edge.

"You can really feel it when you pull up on another car like Gordon's Monte Carlo and your momentum just stops," the 1999 series champion said.

Jarrett, who started from the pole, added that his car became very loose late in the race.

"We got a set of tires where the car just went crazy loose and that kind of spooked me," he said. "We never got it back free enough and it never let me race Jeff."

Marlin finished third and took the series points lead with 468, 35 ahead of Gordon.

Kevin Harvick, who replaced Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing after NASCAR's biggest star was killed in a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500, was the top rookie in eighth.

Burton, who won the previous two races here, was the first driver eliminated when he lost control and hit the wall on Lap 2.

"I wasn't on the gas or anything, and it started coming around and I never could pull it back," said the bewildered 39th-place finisher. "I do not have a clue what happened."

Another early crash knocked Penske Racing teammates Rusty Wallace and Jeremy Mayfield out.

The victory was the 53rd for the 29-year-old Gordon, tying Rusty Wallace for most among active drivers.

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