Gordon holds on for another win

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DARLINGTON, S.C. - The beat goes on for Jeff Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports. For everyone else in the Nextel Cup, beatings go on, too.

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Jeff Gordon celebrates with his crew after winning the Dodge Avenger 500 at Darlington Raceway. His victory was the eighth for Hendrick Motorsports in the past nine races.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Jeff Gordon celebrates with his crew after winning the Dodge Avenger 500 at Darlington Raceway. His victory was the eighth for Hendrick Motorsports in the past nine races.

Even with older tires and a busted radiator, Gordon had no problem stretching his company's record in Car of Tomorrow races to 5-0 by winning the rain-delayed Dodge Avenger 500.

Gordon skipped a final round of pit stops with 22 laps to go to gain track position at the fabled Darlington Raceway. Then he kept his Chevrolet Impala out front as it spewed steam and water all the way to the finish.

Even crippled, Hendrick cars have been unbeatable lately. Counting races with the older, more traditional cars, the Hendrick record now includes eight wins in the past nine races.

Jimmie Johnson, Gordon's teammate, gave up the lead to make a stop for new tires with 23 laps remaining. Gordon, who was running second, didn't stop, although Darlington has a reputation for chewing up tires at an alarming rate.

But that didn't seem to matter to Gordon. Neither did a busted radiator that had his engine of the brink of exploding for much of the final 50 laps or piles of debris around the track that should have brought out a yellow flag in the final five laps. If the race had one more caution, Gordon's old tires probably would have been no match to hard-charging Denny Hamlin.

It's been that kind of year for Gordon. And everyone else.

"I can't believe that thing lasted," Gordon said after winning $323,286. "There's no way that thing should have ever made it. ... That's a testament to Hendrick Motorsports and their engine department.

"What an amazing year we're having."

The race originally was scheduled for Saturday night, but thunderstorms pushed it back to Mother's Day.

The race featured NASCAR's new Car of Tomorrow, a racer that's wider and taller than the traditional car to enhance safety and competition. The new car will be used in 16 of 36 races this year with plans to have it fully implemented before the 2009 season. So far, Hendrick is the only organization that has the new car figured out.

"This is an awesome race team, the guys in the DuPont Chevrolet Impala," Gordon said. "The guys to thank is the Hendrick engine shop. It was a great call by (crew chief) Steve Letarte to skip the final stop. This is so much fun. I'm having a blast. It's unbelievable when you win races."

Six lead-lap drivers skipped the final stop, but only Gordon made it pay off. Ryan Newman re-started with 22 to go in second place, but he faded to a fourth-place finish. But it took Denny Hamlin and Johnson so long to get around Newman in the final 10 laps, it allowed Gordon to pull away to a 50-yard win.

Hamlin led a race-best 179 laps. But two dropped lug nuts during a late pit stop dropped him deep in the running order. His late rally was one spot short.

"We gave another one away to Hendrick Motorsports. This has got to end. Somebody's entire fender and underbody was on the racetrack. I literally pumped my fist in the car because I knew the caution was going to come out. And of course, if caution comes out, it's game over. Instead, Hendrick gets another break."

Gordon admitted there was a lot of trash on the track late in the race. He even agreed NASCAR should have thrown a caution flag - even if it cost him the win.

"There at the end, debris, oil, everything you could imagine, was on that racetrack and that comes back to inconsistency," Gordon said. "I'm glad they didn't throw it a the end. It can work with you or against you. Today it worked for us."

Johnson finished third. He couldn't believe his new tires didn't matter as much as he planned.

"If I were back in that position again, I think I would go for new tires again," Johnson said.

Reach Don Coble at don.coble@morris.com

Sunday's top 10

1. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet

2. Denny Hamlin Chevrolet

3. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet

4. Ryan Newman Dodge

5. Carl Edwards Ford

6. Tony Stewart Chevrolet

7. Matt Kenseth Ford

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet

9. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet

10. Jeff Burton Chevrolet

Next race

What: All-Star Challenge

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Lowe's Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C.


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