Gordon driving toward history

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Jeff Gordon came to Daytona with a solid shot at tying Dale Earnhardt's mark of 76 career victories.

 

Then his car failed inspection. To tie the mark, Gordon must do what no driver has done before: win the Daytona 500 from the 42nd starting position. Bobby Allison holds the record, coming back from 33rd to win in 1978.

Gordon knows it won't be easy. "You've got to avoid the obstacles that lie in the way. You've got to make sure you don't create a wreck. You've got to make sure you don't get caught up in one," he said Friday. "Trust me, there's a reason why nobody has ever won this race from that far back.

"We want to be the first one to do it, and I think we're capable of it."

It certainly looked that way Thursday after Gordon won a qualifying race in dramatic fashion, going from fourth to first on the final lap and taking the lead with an impressive weave through traffic. The finish earned him the fourth-place starting spot for Sunday's season-opening race.

But as he sat on the podium during his winner's news conference, Gordon was told his car was too low in postrace inspection.

In a week filled with cheating scandals, Gordon quickly was linked with the offenders. Unlike the other five drivers who were heavily penalized, Gordon received the equivalent of a slap on the wrist. Series officials ruled his infraction was an inadvertent part failure and did not give him a competitive advantage.

Instead of a stiff penalty, Gordon was stripped of his starting spot and sent to the back of the field, something he knew would lead to calls of favoritism.

"Jeff Gordon's deal? I don't know. It seems like a pretty big deal to me, but that's the way it goes," said Kasey Kahne, who lost his crew chief for four races and was docked 50 points this week.

Elliott Sadler, who had his crew chief suspended two weeks and was docked 25 points, also was puzzled by NASCAR's reaction. "I was kind of surprised they let him keep the win," he said. "If you don't pass postrace inspection, you don't get whatever position you finished in. I think that's why you have postrace inspection."

But as skeptical drivers took time to examine the part and discuss the situation with series officials, that stance began to soften. "It was seen by me as an honest mistake," Jeff Burton said. "For me, I think the penalty fit the crime."

DAYTONA 500 LINEUP

At Daytona International Speedway

Daytona Beach, Fla.

Lap length: 2.5 miles

(Car number in parentheses)


1. (38) David Gilliland, Ford

2. (88) Ricky Rudd, Ford

3. (20) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet

4. (2) Kurt Busch, Dodge

5. (8) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet

6. (40) David Stremme, Dodge

7. (31) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet

8. (5) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet

9. (11) Denny Hamlin, Chevrolet

10. (17) Matt Kenseth, Ford

11. (07) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet

12. (18) J.J. Yeley, Chevrolet

13. (1) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet

14. (99) Carl Edwards, Ford

15. (55) Michael Waltrip, Toyota

16. (12) Ryan Newman, Dodge

17. (25) Casey Mears, Chevrolet

18. (13) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet

19. (21) Kenny Schrader, Ford

20. (96) Tony Raines, Chevrolet

21. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet

22. (109) Mike Wallace, Chevrolet

23. (160) Boris Said, Ford

24. (26) Jamie McMurray, Ford

25. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford

26. (01) Mark Martin, Chevrolet

27. (43) Bobby Labonte, Dodge

28. (9) Kasey Kahne, Dodge

29. (45) Kyle Petty, Dodge

30. (19) Elliott Sadler, Dodge

31. (66) Jeff Green, Chevrolet

32. (10) Scott Riggs, Dodge

33. (41) Reed Sorenson, Dodge

34. (29) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet

35. (6) David Ragan, Ford

36. (42) Juan Pablo Montoya, Dodge

37. (22) Dave Blaney, Toyota

38. (14) Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet

39. (7) Robby Gordon, Ford

40. (00) David Reutimann, Toyota

41. (70) Johnny Sauter, Chevrolet

42. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet

43. (44) Dale Jarrett, Toyota


FAILED TO QUALIFY

44. (49) Mike Bliss, Dodge

45. (36) Jeremy Mayfield, Toyota

46. (15) Paul Menard, Chevrolet

47. (78) Kenny Wallace, Chevrolet

48. (34) Kevin Lepage, Dodge

49. (74) Derrike Cope, Dodge

50. (130) Stanton Barrett, Chevrolet

51. (139) Regan Smith, Chevrolet

52. (37) Bill Elliott, Dodge

53. (171) Frank Kimmel, Ford

54. (172) Brandon Whitt, Chevrolet

55. (58) James Hylton, Chevrolet

56. (104) Eric McClure, Chevrolet

57. (27) Kirk Shelmerdine, Chevrolet

58. (4) Ward Burton, Chevrolet

59. (83) Brian Vickers, Toyota

60. (23) Mike Skinner, Toyota

61. (84) A.J. Allmendinger, Toyota

 

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