5 May 2004
Press Snoop: A Californian NASCAR tale.
Jeff Gordon became the first repeat winner of a NASCAR Cup race at California Speedway on Sunday, taking victory at the Auto Club 500 Nextel Cup Series race. His margin of victory over team-mate Jimmie Johnson was 12.871secs.
Gordon started sixteenth, and won $318,628 for the 250 laps on the two-mile banked oval. This was his 66th Cup victory, and his third at California Speedway in the eight years the race has been held. This year, the ISC owned track will have a second race, over Labor Day weekend. Ryan Newman finished third.
Pole sitter Kasey Kahne qualified at a speed of 186.940mph, and also turned the fastest race lap, but finished 13th overall, the last car on the lead lap.
Bobby Labonte had a heartbreaking fifth place finish, after chasing Gordon for the victory. Labonte lost the fuel challenge and ran out of gas in sight of the chequered flag. He had gained the most laps during the race, after starting twenty-seventh. Gordon ran out of gas while doing doughnuts after the race.
Points leader Dale Earnhardt finished 19th, after struggling with his car, having started tenth.
All 43 entrants ran the race and no-one was sent home. NASCAR said it was a sold-out crowd of 120,000. The grandstands hold 91,000 fans, but no doubt the nearly 100 degree heat was a factor in the empty seating. That, and perhaps this race wasn't a sell-out at all. It has been non-stop hot in Southern California, and forest fires are again making the news. Last autumn, California Speedway cancelled its Champ Car race due to the emergency from all the nearby forest fires.
There were 23 official lead changes among 15 drivers, the highest number since 2000. Jeff Gordon led the most laps and all but eight drivers finished the race, with all but one of the DNFs due to mechanical problems. Stanton Barrett crashed nose-on into the newly installed SAFER Barrier on lap 21 and, although he never lost consciousness, he was hospitalised overnight for observation at Loma Linda University Medical Centre. The Hollywood stunt man was released Monday. There were six cautions for 39 laps.
Brendan Gaughan was the top Rookie, starting fifth and finishing sixth.
Johnny Benson practiced and qualified the #09 Dodge, but it was raced by Joe Ruttman, who had to start from the back due to the driver change. He did his usual two laps, retired with 'vibration' problems, and earned $64,161, or more than $32,000 per lap. Winner Gordon earned a measly $1275 per lap.
Despite all of the above, Tony Stewart continues to be the talk of the town - for all the wrong reasons. For yet another race, he has managed to both hit and anger more drivers. This weekend, he hit race winner Gordon, and also Rusty Wallace, who definitely was not amused. Afterwards, he was angry, not only at the hit, but also at Stewart's 'flipping him off' after the race.
"I wanted to get out of the car and whip his rear end," Wallace admitted, "The kid needs to calm down a little bit... He's really frustrated for some reason."
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