Jeff Gordon wins at Sonoma

Jeff Gordon has been so dominant on NASCAR's road courses that it was considered a slump when he went four races without a victory. The slump is over. Gordon overpowered the field and completed a near-perfect weekend Sunday with a victory in the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.

It was his eighth road course victory, extending his own NASCAR record. But it was his first win at either Infineon or Watkins Glen -- the only tracks where Nextel Cup cars turn both left and right -- since 2001 on the Upstate New York circuit.

``In 2002, the competition got better and we just got a little behind,'' Gordon said. ``Last year, we got our act together and I felt like we were the best car and circumstances worked out to where we didn't win.

``This year, we've taken what we had last year and improved it. I feel like we should be a dominant force on the road courses.''

That's exactly what the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was at Infineon, winning the pole Friday with a record lap, topping every practice session and setting another record by leading 92 of the 110 laps Sunday on the 1.99-mile, 10-turn course.

It was Gordon's fourth Infineon victory and his third win from the pole. Gordon, who jumped from sixth to fourth in the season points, has three wins this season and 67 in his career.

His only real problem on Sunday was the heat.

As temperatures at the scenic wine country circuit neared 90 degrees, the ventilation system in Gordon's Chevrolet became as overpowered as his competition.

``Today, I was challenged by my physical fitness,'' Gordon said. ``Those cautions we had with about 40 and 30 laps to go really helped me a lot. It gave me a chance to get a few moments to relax and it gave the crew a chance to give me some ice packs and cool me down a little.''

The late yellow flags also helped Gordon with another possible problem as crew chief Robbie Loomis cautioned him constantly on the radio to conserve gas.

``I was shutting the engine off rolling downhill and conserving any way I could,'' said Gordon, whose last pit stop came on lap 68.

``I drove out and got as big a lead as I could and gave a lot of it up there at the end,'' Gordon said. ``It was real tough.''

It certainly didn't look it.

Gordon beat surprising Jamie McMurray, in only his second start at the Sonoma track, to the finish line by 1.032 seconds -- about 10 car-lengths, with road racing specialist Scott Pruett third.

``I knew Jeff was going to have to run off the track or goof up and, typically, he doesn't do that,'' McMurray said. ``I was just waiting on him to make a mistake, but I was driving as hard as I could. ... We were just hanging on.''

Kurt Busch started third and vaulted past both Gordon and Rusty Wallace to grab the lead on the first lap, but Gordon quickly moved back into the top spot and stayed there the rest of the way except during pit stop sequences.

After he made his final stop, during one of six caution periods, Gordon found himself behind Casey Mears and rookie Kasey Kahne, both of whom had pitted earlier.

Gordon quickly disposed of Kahne on the restart on lap 70, but it took him until lap 74 before he could work his way past former open-wheel racer Mears. Once Gordon got back on top, he was not challenged again.

``I was so nervous all weekend that we were going to mess it up somehow,'' said Gordon, who came here with three finishes of 30th or worse in his last four races. ``We've been running real well and just hadn't been getting the results.

``But I still felt a lot of confidence coming in here. This race team does not allow bad weekends to get them down.''

Meanwhile, McMurray got past Wallace and Mears to grab second on lap 79, then spent the rest of the race trying without success to cut into Gordon's lead.

Wallace, another of NASCAR's best road racers, was right behind Pruett in fourth when he ran out of gas after crossing the finish line a lap from the end. He wound up 28th as Michael Waltrip, who started 40th in the 43-car field, took over fourth place.

Series leader Jimmie Johnson, Gordon's teammate, finished fifth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. recovered from two spins to finish 11th, but fell from seven to 27 points behind Johnson in the season standings.

NASCAR bad boy Tony Stewart collided on-track with both Ward Burton and Brian Vickers, then got into a postrace clash with Vickers. The 20-year-old rookie said he was still strapped into his car and talking with Stewart about the crash when the former series champion reached into Vickers' car, grabbed the youngster and hit him with an open palm.

Both drivers were summoned to the NASCAR hauler. A NASCAR spokesman said there would be a further investigation before determining if any penalties would be handed out.

Robby Gordon, who won both Nextel Cup road races last year -- at Sonoma and Watkins Glen -- had a miserable day. He slid off course and hit a tire wall after losing a tire earlier in the race, then had two more flat tires and wound up 34th.

Boris Said, another road racing specialist, finished sixth, followed by Mears, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Elliott Sadler, rounding out the top 10.


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