Trackside Reports Live from Phoenix International Raceway · Becca Gladden · Saturday April 21, 2007
It was a picture perfect night at the jewel of the desert, Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona, and one that Jeff Gordon will assuredly not soon forget.
As winner of the Subway Fresh-Fit 500, Gordon became the first driver ever to win the race from the pole and is now able to scratch PIR off his short list of tracks where he hasn’t won a Cup race. Most importantly, the victory was Gordon’s 76th Cup win, tying him with NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Gordon was ecstatic in Victory Lane as he kissed pregnant wife Ingrid Vandebosch’s tummy and accepted congratulations from Dale Earnhardt Jr. for tying his late father’s win total.
“We’ve just been hitting on all eight cylinders lately,” an elated Gordon said after the race. “I told Steve (Letarte) I owed him one from last week because that one got away from us,” he added, referring to his fourth-place finish at Texas after starting from the pole.
The race got underway with a clear sky and moderate temperatures, and concerns about last night’s rain washing away the grip evaporated as quickly as the puddles on the ground under the warm afternoon sun.
Starting from the pole, Gordon led in the early going, but fell back to second after being passed by Denny Hamlin on Lap 27.
Hamlin looked particularly stout early on but was tagged for speeding on pit road at Lap 101 and restarted in 31st place after serving his penalty. Though Hamlin powered back up through the field for a strong third-place finish, he expressed frustration and disappointment after the race. “It’s frustrating to have the best Car of Tomorrow for three races in a row and have nothing to show for it,” he said.
There was only one race-related caution in the first half of the event when David Ragan lost the handle on the No. 6 car at Lap 42 and spun, collecting David Stremme, Casey Mears and Scott Riggs in the aftermath. All four cars eventually returned to the track.
Tony Stewart took the lead at Lap 155 and dominated most of the evening, with Gordon running second. However, Gordon had a bit of racing luck during a Lap 285 pit stop. The 24 was already pitting when a caution flew. Gordon was able to get out quickly and stay on the lead lap, taking the lead from Stewart as the 20 pitted with the other race leaders.
Gordon and Stewart swapped the lead in the closing laps but eventually Gordon prevailed. Stewart finished second despite having led three times for a race-high 132 laps.
Overall, Chevrolets dominated the night as they have for most of the season. Eight of the Top 10 cars were Chevy’s, with Matt Kenseth (5th) and Bobby Labonte (8th) the best Ford and Dodge respectively. Toyota’s Dave Blaney had a strong run going until he spun entering pit road on Lap 283, making Dale Jarrett the highest finishing Toyota in 29th.
Concerns about the safety of the Car of Tomorrow failed to materialize as there were no major issues with smoke or fire similar to those in the car’s first two showings at Bristol and Martinsville.
Kevin Harvick had been a pre-race favorite among pundits due to his recent dominance at this track. He swept both Cup races at PIR last season and had finishes of first and second in the ’06 Busch events here. Though he ran in the Top 10 throughout the evening, he complained about a lack of grip and was never able to move to the front, finishing 10th.
Harvick’s teammate Clint Bowyer, winner of Friday night’s Busch race, was a mid-pack car most of the day and finished 22nd. RCR driver Jeff Burton, last week’s winner at Texas Motor Speedway, also had problems with grip but ended the night in 13th.
Although Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson struggled with electrical problems, he had a strong car all night and finished fourth. Other notable Top-10 finishes included Jeff Green (6th), Kyle Busch (7th) and Johnny Sauter (9th), while the highest finishing rookie was Paul Menard in 25th.
Gordon maintains the Nextel Cup points lead with tonight’s victory. None of the Top 5 drivers changed their current points standing, but Tony Stewart did gain two spots, moving up to seventh in points.
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