Robby, 31 team win battle
of the Gordons at Sonoma
By DAVID SCOTT
The Charlotte Observer
SONOMA, Calif. - Winning a NASCAR Winston Cup race with one of the sport's top drivers filling your rearview mirror for much of the afternoon can't be easy. But using some experience gained last season, Robby Gordon held off Jeff Gordon to win a controversial Dodge/Save Mart 350 Sunday at Infineon Raceway.
With Jeff Gordon hard on his tail for the race's final 18 laps, Robby Gordon won for the second time in his Winston Cup career. Jeff Gordon's runner-up finish moved him into second place in the season standings, 174 points behind leader Matt Kenseth, who finished 14th Sunday. Kenseth had a 185-point lead on Dale Earnhardt Jr. coming into Sunday's race. Earnhardt finished 11th and dropped into third, two points behind Jeff Gordon.
In winning, Robby Gordon solidified his reputation as one of the circuit's top road-course drivers. But he used a lesson learned from 2002 to keep a lead he held for 81 laps Sunday.
"We were running second to Tony Stewart (in 2002) and we both came in at the same time (to pit)," said Robby Gordon. "We both knew at that point that we had made a mistake. Track position is key here and we had to use every obstacle we could to gain as much track position as we could."
In gaining that valuable track position, Gordon hurt some feelings and wrote another chapter in NASCAR's book on the gray area of caution-lap passing.
When a yellow flag came out on Lap 71, Gordon passed Richard Childress Racing teammate Kevin Harvick on his way back to the start-finish line. NASCAR has a "gentlemen's agreement" that discourages doing that.
Gordon, though, said he asked three times during Sunday's prerace drivers' meeting if it was within the rules to race back to the line. NASCAR officials told him it was OK.
So Gordon didn't break any rule, although he might have violated its spirit.
"He did a great job," said Jeff Gordon of Robby Gordon. "He won the race fair and square except for that right there. I don't care if they call it a 'gentlemen's agreement' or not. What he did, especially to his teammate, is absolutely ridiculous."
Robby Gordon said he was repaying Harvick for a move Harvick used on Lap 58, when he and Ron Fellows passed Gordon in a tight corner and bumped him to third place.
"When he got by me, he took a shot at risking it," said Robby Gordon. "And I paid him back under caution."
So the end of the race featured its two strongest cars - the Gordons'. Jeff never quite had enough for Robby.
"He ran into the dirt one time or locked up an inside tire one time, and those are the types of things I tried to capitalize on," said Jeff Gordon. "When tires are that old, it's hard to capitalize and make those moves. I ate him up pretty much everywhere. It's hard to out-brake Robby. He's driving in there locking the brakes up. He did exactly what he needed to do to win that race."
Robby Gordon, whose other victory came at New Hampshire in 2001, knew Jeff Gordon was there. In fact, Robby used Jeff's position behind him to keep him at a safe distance.
"It was a matter of how close I was going to let Jeff get to me," the winner said. "He had an opportunity in (Turn) 11 once, but from that time I paced him off his front bumper with my rear bumper. We didn't have to run harder than we needed to do to win the race from there."
Robby Gordon, who started second, made his presence felt early in the race, passing pole-winner Boris Said on Lap 2. Said, subbing for the injured Jerry Nadeau in the MB2 Motorsports Pontiac, also had the fastest car in Friday's and Saturday's practice sessions. He finished sixth.