- The Washington Times - Monday, October 8, 2007

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — It’s not in Jeff Gordon’s nature to go slow, and asking the four-time series champion to ride aimlessly around in the back of the pack is unheard of.

But with all the unknowns surrounding yesterday’s UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, it seemed to be the safest strategy. Still, he resisted and even told car owner Rick Hendrick he wouldn’t do it.

He apparently had a change of heart, agreeing to turn parade laps for much of the race before surging past Jimmie Johnson on the final lap and holding off his teammate to become the career victory leader at restrictor-plate tracks.

“It was the hardest race I’ve ever had to be in. I’ve never had that type of mind-set before,” Gordon said. “I’ve never done that before. I even told Rick Hendrick earlier in the week that some guys were talking about that strategy, and I can’t do it — I think we’ve got to get out there and race and let the chips fall where they may.

“I changed that … and it was tough because I don’t like just going out there and riding in the back. I want to be out there battling for the lead and leading laps.”

He parlayed his decision into his 12th career plate win and sixth victory this season and moved back on top of the points standings. He leads Johnson by nine points with six races left in the Chase for the championship.

But it was bizarre way to do it by Gordon’s standards.

Fears over the Car of Tomorrow’s plate debut and former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve’s first Nextel Cup event had the entire field concerned the race would be one big demolition derby.

So Gordon decided he would avoid the mess by staying in the back and found himself yawning in his race car for the first time in his career.

Gordon had a horrible qualifying effort — he started 34th — and it put him at the back, from where he never tried to move. He then suffered a late-race setback when he pulled out of his pit with a hose hanging from his car, earning a pass-through penalty that seemed to take him out of contention.

Still, he sat back, resisting the urge to charge to the front.

“It was terrible. I am telling you that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in a race car,” Gordon said. “I like to think that I have pretty good patience, but that’s beyond patience.

“There’s just nothing fun about that, but I knew it was the smart thing.”

A master at working the draft, Gordon eventually marched toward the front and had moved into the top 15 as the race neared its completion. With six laps left, he was in the middle of a Hendrick Motorsports charge that saw Johnson, Gordon and Casey Mears surge to the front of the pack.

Gordon was stuck behind Johnson, though, and waited until the last lap to make a move toward the front. He finally jumped up high, squeezing in between Johnson and the Penske cars of Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch.

Just as Johnson tried to block him, two-time series champion Tony Stewart slid onto Gordon’s bumper and gave him a huge push into the lead. Gordon led just one lap — the last one — to complete a season sweep at Talladega.

“I wasn’t happy with getting passed, but that would have been the situation with anybody,” said Johnson, who finished second. “To get that close and not win is a letdown. There must have been stuff going on behind me that I couldn’t see, but Jeff could in his mirror, and he pulled up and got in front of the 20 [Stewart] and was able to take advantage of that push.”

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