Drenching the Drought
Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon ended his 66-race series winless drought by seizing an opportunity to aggressively guide his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports ride past Kyle Busch's No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing rocket and to the lead with nine of 312 laps remaining on the one-mile oval at Phoenix International Raceway.
Once Gordon's car took the lead for the sixth time in the battle, it thundered away from Busch's through closing stretch of the second Sprint Cup Series event of the season and scored a 1.137 seconds victory.
"I drove in deep into (Turn) 1, got to him and I could tell he was having to really get after it. Then, I got underneath him and got off of (Turn) 4. I knew coming down the front straightaway that he was going to kind of pinch me down into (Turn) 1. He did and I got a little loose.
"Then, I just drifted up the track and I didn't know what was going to happen. When they said we were 'clear,' I just went. Catching him was one thing and passing him was going to be a whole lot different deal. We had a great car. It worked out," Gordon said after leading the event six times for a race-best 163 laps.
His first Sprint Cup victory since April 5, 2009 at Texas Motor Speedway marked the 83rd of his career and tied him for fifth in all-time series victories with Cale Yarborough.
"I'll be honest. I didn't know if we were ever going to get past 82. The way things have been going the past couple of years, you lose a little bit of that spark and you wonder what it's going to take to get to Victory Lane. I can tell you after today that it takes a team like this and a racecar like that.
"We qualified 20th and I thought we were in trouble. But boy, after today, I am really excited about this season. We are going to enjoy the season and savor this one. We've won a lot of races over the years, but it's been a while. When you go through that kind of a run without winning, it makes you appreciate it that much more," Gordon added.
Busch netted his first top-five and second top-10 finish of the season after rallying back from a Lap 59 incident that damaged his No. 18 when it made contact with Roush Fenway Racing's Carl Edwards' No. 99. Busch pitted for repairs after the incident and restarted the race 36th on Lap 64.
The No. 18 was in the race top five on Lap 126 and remained in contention until a Lap 287 caution tightened the field and set up a restart charge to the Phoenix finish line. Stewart Haas Racing driver Tony Stewart held the lead in the 14 machine, Busch sat second and Gordon third.
Busch took the race lead for the second and final time of the day by passing Stewart on Lap 291, but couldn't hold off Gordon.
"We came back strong, really good car on long runs, and, on the really long runs, we were kind of running those guys down.
"It seemed after the restarts, Jeff was just really, really good. We thought we could beat him after 20 or so laps, but he had just so much forward bite today we just could not hang with him. There was a car out there that was better than us. We just got out-raced there at the end and we didn't quite have what we needed. I thought I got out to a big enough lead, but Jeff was too strong.
"All in all, with everything that happened today, we had a good day. Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and the guys did a great job. We battled through a lot of adversity working on the car on pit road and then we had a shot for the win. All I needed was a shot," Busch said.
He charted his eighth career top-10 Sprint Cup Series finish at Phoenix and will hold a three-point lead in the series standings over his brother Kurt when teams arrive at Las Vegas Motor Speedway the series' March 6 400-mile race. Coverage is set for a 3:00 p.m., start on FOX television. PRN radio and Sirius XM Radio 128 begin coverage at 2:00 p.m.
Five-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson took third for Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 48, Kevin Harvick dialed up a fourth-place finish for Richard Childress Racing in the No. 29 and Stewart Haas Racing wheelman Ryan Newman crossed the finish line fifth in the No. 39.
Story by Mike Schmaltz