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Gordon gives Hendrick family Daytona win

21 February 2005

Jeff Gordon joined the list of triple Daytona 500 winners as he held off a 'green-white-chequered' charge from reigning Nextel Cup Champion Kurt Busch and defending Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Gordon won the longest '500' in the 47 year history of 'The Great American Race' as NASCAR's much debated 'GWC' ruling allowed the Daytona fans to witness a dramatic, spectacular and emotional conclusion to what had been a tense battle of wits between all the major Nextel Cup players.

After following the seemingly unbeatable Tony Stewart for more than half of the 200 laps, Gordon grabbed the lead in the seconds leading up to the final caution period of the day, inching ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr coming out of turn two with three laps remaining just as Kasey Kahne suffered a puncture and swiped the wall.

After trying to work together in their attempts to oust Stewart, Gordon Earnhardt Jr and Kurt Busch found themselves pitted against one another in the first ever Daytona 500 'green-white-chequered' finish.

But while the three lap sprint to the finish saw plenty of two and three wide racing just behind the leaders, primarily as the thoroughly disgruntled Stewart tried to regain the ground he lost when Earnhardt Jr led a charge by the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet with five laps remaining, there was no change at the front.

Clinging to the almost impregnable low line, Gordon managed to hold off the combined might of Roush Racing and DEI with his Hendrick Motorsport Chevrolet, as he took his first '500 win since 1999, despite only leading twice for a total of 29 laps.

Busch started his title defence well, even though he failed to lead a lap as a result of Stewart almost total dominance of the event. Busch's cause was not helped by the fact that he was one of many drivers to incur the wrath of NASCAR's new electronic method of monitoring the pit lane speed limit, the defending champ having to serve a drive through penalty that left him mired in 25th, more than half a lap behind the leaders.

One of several debris related caution periods saved Busch, who quickly moved back to the front of the pack but was unable to make a move on Stewart.

Even the ever-powerful Earnhardt Jr only led two laps all day, taking the lead for the first time all day with his move on Stewart at the conclusion of lap 194.

The #8 Bud car might have led many more laps had it not been for an incident on pit road during the first of two rounds of green flag pit stops when Jeff Burton tapped the #8 into a spin that left Earnhardt Jr broadside to his pit wall. Even though the Pete Rondeau led #8 crew were able to complete the stop, precious time was lost and Earnhardt Jr rarely featured in the top five until the final ten laps.

Behind Earnhardt Jr, Scott Riggs scored the biggest result of his young Nextel Cup career with an outstanding fourth place in his #10 MBV Motorsport Valvoline Chevrolet. After narrowly avoiding the biggest crash of the day twenty laps from home, Riggs played a critical role in helping push Gordon to the front and held on for a career best finish.

Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five after a day trying to help Hendrick teammate Gordon push his way past Stewart. Like Gordon, Johnson was able to lead several laps in the early stages before he too was caught speeding, which temporarily dropped him from contention.

Trailing his teammate dutifully for much of the races final quarter, a moment of indecision with six laps remaining cost Johnson several spots, as he hesitated to follow Gordon to the previously unpopular high line and found himself without a drafting partner when it mattered most.

Going in to the final corner, Johnson had his hands full with a recovering Stewart who, angered at Johnson's attempts to block him on the last lap, traded paint with the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet several times on the slowing down lap, prompting further angry scenes after the race between Stewart and Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus.

Stewart, who almost crashed coming off the final turn as he and Johnson touched at speeds approaching 190mph, wound up a disappointed seventh behind Mark Martin, who didn't get the fairytale Daytona win he had hoped for, but like Rusty Wallace, didn't let up in his quest for a second despite the obstacles put in his path.

After getting penalised for speeding along with Busch and Johnson, Martin and his #6 Roush Racing crew also had to contend with a malfunctioning cooling fan, which caused a lengthy pit stop and dropped Martin to the rear of the pack.

After missing the lap 183 'big one' by a matter of inches, Martin and Wallace worked together in the final laps in their collective quest for victory. Martin got a better run than Wallace during the final sprint, but couldn't open up a third groove on the final lap despite his best efforts on the run into turn one.

Sterling Marlin made his way through two crashes in the final 20 laps that eliminated or delayed more than a dozen lead lap contenders to finish eighth.

Behind Marlin, Kevin Lepage continued to be the fairytale story of the week by giving the #37 Patron Tequila sponsored R&J Racing team its best ever finish with a stunning ninth place effort.

After hanging on to a place on the lead lap through the first half of the race, Lepage ran out of fuel during the second round of green flag pit stops with 60 laps to go, dropping to 37th.

Thanks to a caution filled final 60 laps, Lepage was able to take advantage of NASCAR's free pass rule, regained his spot on the lead lap and then proceeded to avoid two major late race pile-ups as his dream Daytona week came to a happy ending.

The fact that Lepage was able to gain nearly 30 places in the final 50 laps was testament to the carnage that unfolded after what was a relatively calm opening 400 miles.

First to go was Michael Waltrip, whose strong run came to an end with a blown engine 40 laps from home. Less than ten laps later several more lead lap cars were limping to the pits after John Andretti tapped Travis Kvapil, spun and was T-boned by Jason Leffler.

With 18 laps to go it was Scott Wimmer's turn to enter the Daytona barrel-roll hall of fame, last year's third place finisher taking a triple tumble off turn four in the aftermath of Greg Biffle's contact with Riggs. Half a dozen more were caught up, including Kevin Harvick, Kahne, Jamie McMurray and Jeremy Mayfield. Wimmer, like everyone else involved, was unhurt.

The race hadn't even restarted following that crash and there was more carnage, the result of one of the top five cars backing off momentarily, causing those behind to bottle up and run into each other.

Wimmer's teammate Mike Skinner was worst affected, the driver of the #23 Bill Davis Racing Dodge taking heavy impacts from the already damaged Andretti, rookie Travis Kvapil and Mike Bliss, while Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards were also involved.

Rusty Wallace finished his final Daytona 500 in tenth place after a spirited effort in a back-up car that was never really 'on it' while Elliott Sadler led the 'walking wounded' home in eleventh position.

Sadler suffered damaged in the very first crash of the day, all the way back on lap 28 when Ricky Rudd suffered a puncture in turn four and spun up the track, collecting Kyle Busch and Mike Wallace. Sadler, who was running towards the tail of the pack, was punted by the unsighted Boris Said and never figured thereafter but was able to avoid the late race incidents and salvage a solid finish.

Edwards survived his maiden Daytona 500 with minimal front end damage from the restart crash to take twelfth place, with Joe Nemechek a disappointed 13th, even if the driver of the #01 US Army car fought back from a lap down after pitting outside his box and losing a lap.

Dave Blaney gave Jack Daniels a top 15 finish in their first points paying race as primary team sponsor, crossing the line in 14th, one place ahead of pole sitter Dale Jarrett.

Jarrett, who has struggled in race trim throughout Speedweeks, was soon shuffled to the back of the field but kept making adjustments to his #88 Robert Yates Racing Ford and finally came up with something close to a competitive set-up.

Jeff Green led Petty Enterprises teammate Kyle Petty home in unspectacular, but trouble free 16th and 17th places while Mike Bliss, top rookie finisher Travis Kvapil and Ryan Newman all sustained damage but managed to hold on to a place in the top 20.

Less fortunate were former series champions Matt Kenseth and Bobby Labonte, who both suffered engine failures inside the first 40 laps and could do little but watch proceedings unfold from their transporters, knowing that they would have to wait another year for a crack at 'The Great American Race.'