Gordon driving toward history

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

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Jeff Gordon climbs into his car before a practice session for the Daytona 500. Gordon earned the fourth starting spot in the Daytona 500 on Thursday, but his postrace celebration, at bottom left, was short-lived. His car failed inspection when a bolt came loose causing the car to be lower than allowed. Gordon was pushed to the back of the field for Sunday's race. The four-time series champion was not penalized for the infraction.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Jeff Gordon climbs into his car before a practice session for the Daytona 500. Gordon earned the fourth starting spot in the Daytona 500 on Thursday, but his postrace celebration, at bottom left, was short-lived. His car failed inspection when a bolt came loose causing the car to be lower than allowed. Gordon was pushed to the back of the field for Sunday's race. The four-time series champion was not penalized for the infraction.

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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tchnga
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tchnga 02/17/07 - 01:31 pm
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Obviously it wasn't

Obviously it wasn't intentional. Even Jeff Burton who is one of the more outspoken drivers said he was satisfied after inspecting the part himself. Clearly the part didn't help his performance THAT much. Congrats to NASCAR for not jumping the gun and giving an unfair penalty.

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