Trevor Bayne is NASCAR's newest sensation after the 20-year-old's improbable Daytona 500 win, but NASCAR's original "Golden Boy" - Jeff Gordon, who was Bayne's boyhood hero - drove back into the spotlight Sunday after a long absence.
Gordon ran down Kyle Busch and passed him with eight laps left to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, ending a 66-race winless streak.
It’s the second time this one-mile track in Avondale, Ariz., just west of Phoenix has been memorable for Gordon, a four-time Series champion. In April 2007, he won at Phoenix to tie the late Dale Earnhardt for sixth on the all-time Cup wins list with 76. With Sunday’s victory, Gordon tied Cale Yarborough for fifth with 83 career wins.
“I was feeling a lot of emotion” after the race ended, said Gordon, who planned to fly to Los Angeles for post-Academy Awards parties Sunday night. “It’s just so cool to get back to winning.”
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When a 20-something Gordon arrived on the Cup circuit in the mid-1990s, he often was booed for beating such legends as Earnhardt. But Gordon, who turns 40 in August, has long since become a fan favorite and the grandstands erupted in cheers when he crossed the finish line Sunday.
Even Busch, not always the most gracious loser, was magnanimous Sunday, saying Gordon was “my hero” as well. “I knew he was going to get to me eventually” in the closing laps, Busch said. “He was on a mission today.”
Busch was trying for only the second weekend sweep of NASCAR’s three national series — Busch also was the first one to do it — after he won the truck and Nationwide car races.
But Gordon steadily chased him in the final laps and their cars “banged a little bit” when Gordon pulled alongside Busch. “I drove off and (Busch) was three or four car lengths behind me and I said, yes, let’s go,” Gordon said.
It was a long, often frustrating winless drought for Gordon, especially when measured against the success of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, who has won the Cup championship for the last five years.
Johnson finished third Sunday, Kevin Harvick was fourth and Ryan Newman fifth.
Gordon’s win came after an offseason shakeup in the Hendrick camp, in which Alan Gustafson, formerly crew chief for Mark Martin, took over as crew chief for Gordon’s illustrious No. 24 Chevrolet.
The race, which followed a night of heavy rain, featured a track-record 28 lead changes and several accidents. One was a pileup involving 13 cars that was more reminiscent of the Daytona or Talladega superspeedways than the one-mile Phoenix International track.
Enumclaw’s Kasey Kahne drove his Toyota to a six-place finish, worth $119,733. The Ford driven by Greg Biffle of Vancouver, Wash., was 20th.
LUCAS TOPS TOP FUEL
Morgan Lucas defeated Shawn Langdon in a matchup of former high school classmates in the Top Fuel final at the season-opening NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.
Lucas powered to a run of 3.835 seconds at 316.38 mph, while Langdon lost traction for a moment and slowed to a 4.047 at 313.73. The two Lucas Oil Racing teammates graduated in 2001 from Jurupa Valley High School in nearby Mira Loma, Calif.
Robert Hight (4.056, 312.71 over Matt Hagan) won the Funny Car final while Jason Line (6.529, 211.89 over Greg Stanfield) won in Pro Stock.