Bristol: Gordon wins at last

Jeff Gordon, timing his move like a cat, nudged Rusty Wallace aside three laps from the finish and won Saturday night's Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway

Bristol: Gordon wins at last

Gordon, who started from the pole and led half the race, ended a 31-race losing streak, longest of his career, dating to last September's inaugural at Kansas City.

Wallace, who had taken the lead from Kevin Harvick on Lap 482, was seeking to end a longer losing streak, his dating to the California race in April 2001 (49 races).

Second and closing was the place to be, however. Gordon followed Wallace past Harvick, then bided time until Rusty was slowed by the lapped car of Joe Nemechek with five to go, allowing Gordon to cover Wallace's bumper. From there, the winning move was a matter of timing.

"I just tried to follow his lead," said Gordon, who had matched Wallace's lap times for 15 circuits. "Every time he made a pass I tried to stick my nose in there and get up to the front."

The finish was a near-duplicate of the 2000 April race here, with Gordon then also nudging Rusty out of the way at the end for a victory.

"I couldn't believe when we got by Harvick it was just the two of us," Gordon said. "I¹d say, 'Oh, here we go, all over again, but at night.' This is going to be wild."

Wallace accepted the outcome with a pinch of salt.

"I'm looking out in front of me and I'm seeing all those lapped cars," he said. "We had like five laps to go, and I see all the lapped cars and I see the 24 coming and I said, 'Damn.'

"I just lost the air to the front of the car and I started pushing again like you always do. Then Gordon got up on me, and the white flag was waving. We went into Turn 3 and got a little nudge and that was it. I was trying like hell to catch him and knock the hell out of him, but I just couldn't catch him."

Could Gordon have won without the bump?

"No, not a chance in hell," Rusty insisted, then looked at the bright side.

"It's good, fun Bristol racing," he amended. "It was a good strong run for us. I know he wanted to win the thing real bad because all the fans have been on him about not winning, but I tell you, it's been about 40 or 50 races since I've won too, so I wanted it real bad myself."

Teams may have learned the limits of Goodyear's hockey-puck tyre. Two of the past three races (Elliott Sadler, April 2001, Kurt Busch, April 2002) were won by drivers who skipped pit stops and kept on getting it on the indestructable rubber.

A couple of guys tried again, with Busch and team-mate Matt Kenseth last pitting for tyres on Lap 328 and Kevin Harvick on 352.

The decisive call came during caution on Lap 373, when Casey Atwood hit the wall. Gordon, Wallace and Earnhardt Jr, who had been the flag carriers to that point (only two leaders through the first half), pitted for tyres and fuel. Wallace came out eighth, Gordon 10th, and Junior 13th.

Johnny Benson, by not pitting, took the lead but could not hold it, amid some rough stuff. Busch took the point on Lap 389, Kenseth on 434, and Harvick on 444, each in sequence as the car in front weakened or was caught in traffic.

Wallace led Gordon and Earnhardt past each post up to leader Harvick, who yielded on 482. The rest is described above.

Earnhardt finished third, Harvick fourth, Kenseth fifth, and Busch sixth.

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