Sports

Jeff Gordon breaks hex at Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Texas Motor Speedway had been so hard on Jeff Gordon it made his baby girl cry.

He hadn't won for so long anywhere that he found himself copying what other winners had been doing for the past 18 months and, perhaps without realizing it, quoting lyrics from a song the band Foreigner performed during a prerace concert.

He even needed notes to remember what sponsors to thank Sunday -- going down the side of his car and looking at patches on his uniform like a nervous victory lane rookie.

"Things have changed since I've won a race," Gordon said after his victory in the Samsung 500 at a track where he hadn't won in his first 16 tries. "But you don't have to worry about finding Victory Lane. They'll point you to it."

For 13 seasons, Gordon won so often celebrations were second nature. But it had been 47 races since his last win at Charlotte in October 2007, by far the longest since his first career win in 1994.

He was rusty.

"It was the coolest," Gordon said after holding off Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson over the final laps to get his 82nd career Sprint Cup win. "All those emotions and excitement. ... A season goes by and guys re-create how they celebrate a victory from getting the checkered flag."

Gordon did burnouts. He stopped and got the checkered flag.

"That's the first time I've ever carried a checkered flag around a race win in NASCAR," he said. "I used to do it in quarter midgets back when I was about 8.

"I can't do a back flip, so I'm not going to do that."

This sunny but windy afternoon might have concluded with a back flip, the signature move from Carl Edwards who won both Cup races here last season while Gordon went all year without winning for the first time since his rookie campaign in 1993.

Edwards had passed Gordon for the lead on Lap 296 but his team fumbled away its chance for a victory on a final pit stop that stop left Edwards 11th for the restart with 25 laps to go.

"We're all in this together," Edwards said after finishing 10th. "Those guys don't yell at me when I hit the wall, so it's not my position to be mad at them."

Gordon's crew, on the other hand, ripped off a fast stop. He'd come in third, behind Edwards and Tony Stewart, but Gordon won the race off pit road and got his No. 24 Chevrolet in the clean air he needed to get a good jump into the final run.

Stewart was second. Johnson, whose team kept improving on a Chevrolet that was not a factor in the first two-thirds of the race, was third. Greg Biffle, who'd led 93 laps but who'd also lost track position when he had problems on pit road, was fourth.

Gordon said his car was perfect for the first few laps after the restart. "The car was so stuck to the race track I didn't have to worry about making mistakes," he said. "I couldn't mess it up. But after that the balance started going away and I kept telling myself, 'Don't make a mistake. Don't overdrive it.' I did a couple times but recovered."

Johnson got to second and he was giving it all he had to try to catch his teammate. Johnson, driving car No. 48, wanted to extend Gordon's winless streak to that number.

"As a friend, I would have felt bad," Johnson said. "As a competitor, I would have been excited.

"... I could only get so close. I tried the topside. Nothing really panned out. I went back down to the bottom and started making up a little bit of time again, hoping that that would put pressure on him and force him into a mistake. But he ran a perfect race."

It wasn't perfect, Gordon said, but it was good enough at track where Gordon admitted that as recently as after Saturday's final practice session he felt "lost."

Gordon, who now has won at every track on the Sprint Cup schedule except for Homestead-Miami Speedway, actually has more top-five finishes (seven) here than any other driver. But he's also had some tough times here -- things like wrecks and mistakes that hadn't happened nearly as often to the four-time Cup champion at other tracks.

One of the worst came a year ago this week. After getting his season off to a decent start Gordon and his team came to Texas and struggled from the time they unloaded.

The angst carried over off the track, too. Gordon's wife, Ingrid, and their daughter, Ella, were here all weekend last year.

"I was having a rough time on the track because we weren't very good," Gordon said. "I love going back to see Ella and Ingrid in the bus, but Ella was not sleeping well. So I was up all night and stressed out."

On race day, Gordon finished 43rd.

"It was no coincidence to me that we had the race that we had at this time last year," he said. "It was just a miserable weekend all the way around."

This time it was just the opposite. Ingrid and Ella weren't here this time, but Gordon said he believes this win means there will be more this year, so there will be other opportunities for them to join the fun.

As for Gordon, the victory moved him to within one of tying Cale Yarborough for fifth on the all-time victory list.

But this one had its own feel, Gordon said.

"It feels like the very first time," he said.

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