Originally created 05/03/04

California is a dream for Gordon



FONTANA, Calif. - Even after the second-, third- and fourth-place cars ran out of gas on the final lap of Sunday's Auto Club 500, Jeff Gordon had just enough fuel - and a tank overflowing with confidence - to make a victory lap around California Speedway.

The four-time Nextel Cup Series champion had only one top-five finish in his first eight races, but he's rallied for back-to-back victories to signal he's a dominating force again.

Gordon has moved from 13th to third in the point standings in the past five races with finishes of ninth, third, sixth, first and first.

"When you've got a race team like this and you have race cars like we do and the resources we have at Hendrick Motorsports, you can do amazing things," Gordon said after winning his 66th career race - and third at 8-year-old California Speedway.

"We do have momentum right now. We're going to take it to the off week (next Sunday) and we're going to try to keep the momentum when we come back (for the May 15 race at Richmond, Va.).

"When they dropped the green flag, this car just ran straight to the front. Randy Dorton in the engine department, thank you, thank you. This was the baddest engine we've ever had under the hood."

Gordon worked his way into the top five early in the race, but he seemed to save his best for the final 150 miles. He passed pole-sitter Kasey Kahne on the 192nd of 250 laps, and he maintained his lead once a cycle of green flag pit stops ended 12 laps later. After the pit stops, he jumped out to a 300-yard lead knowing fuel was going to be an issue for everyone running in the top 10.

Kahne bounced off the fourth turn wall with 30 laps to go and fell off the pace. At the same time, Bobby Labonte made a charge from seventh place to second in a span of 35 laps to get within 50 yards of Gordon in the final five laps. But his Chevrolet ran out of gas as he took the white flag and he coasted around the racetrack for a fifth-place finish.

Jimmie Johnson, a teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, went from fifth to second on the final lap when Labonte, Jeremy Mayfield and Kahne all ran out of gas.

"We'll take it any way we can get it," he said. "I was really settled in for fifth and thought that was where we were going to end up. There are a lot of elements in this game and fuel mileage is one of them."

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.net.