Robby Gordon Wins New Hampshire 300
Saturday, November 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
LOUDON, N.H. (AP) _ One Gordon celebrated while another one sulked as the NASCAR season came to its belated end.
Robby Gordon earned the first victory of his career Friday, bumping series champion Jeff Gordon out of his way and driving to the winners circle at New Hampshire International Speedway.
As Robby celebrated, the usually mild-mannered Jeff showed he is capable of losing his temper. After ramming into the back of Robby's car in retaliation, Jeff said the other Gordon should be ashamed of how he won the race.
``Everybody thought you couldn't make me mad, but he made me mad,'' Jeff said. ``He should be embarrassed to win like that.''
Robby, who is not related to the four-time Winston Cup champion, held his head high in the winners circle.
``For Jeff to say I'm embarrassed, I think he should be embarrassed for retaliating the way he did,'' Robby said. ``We could have had a little conversation after the race, but I'm not too worried about it.''
It was only fitting that the longest and most draining season in NASCAR history ended with the same fireworks it had all year.
The race, originally scheduled to be run in September but postponed until Friday after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, looked to be Jeff Gordon's for most of the event. He led 257 of the 300 laps until the late race antics.
The clash began with 16 laps to go when leader Jeff appeared to slow his Chevrolet to avoid running into the lapped car of Mike Wallace. Robby rammed him from behind, turning Jeff sideways and into the back of Wallace.
As the yellow flag came out, Jeff raced around the track and slammed into the back of Robby in a retaliatory bump that drew a one-lap penalty from NASCAR.
``I ought to take him out right now!'' Jeff screamed over the radio as he headed into the pits for his penalty.
But he didn't, leaving Robby alone on the track, where he held off second-place finisher Sterling Marlin on the restart to become NASCAR's 19th different winner this season.
Jeff's Chevrolet sustained heavy front-end damage after the contact and the penalty eliminated him from contention. He wound up 15th.
Robby did not receive a penalty _ NASCAR said his bump was a racing incident _ enabling the year to end with the late Dale Earnhardt's car owner getting a victory in a season that began with The Intimidator's death in the Daytona 500.
Richard Childress, who owned Earnhardt's car, also owns the Chevrolet Robby Gordon began driving midway through the season as a replacement for Mike Skinner.
Childress was able to celebrate Robby's win, but it was tempered.
``It's nice to go out this way, but nothing will ever fill the void left by Dale,'' Childress said. ``I've still got an emptiness.''
It was redemption for Robby Gordon, a former open-wheel driver who has been written off several times in NASCAR. He was fired from his ride with Morgan-McClure Motorsports four races into the year and was out of a job until Childress needed someone to take over for the injured Skinner.
He almost won two races this year as a replacement, losing one when he stubbornly refused to let the lapped car of Kevin Harvick pass him, getting so caught up in the battle that Tony Stewart raced past them both to victory.
He had the strongest car a second time, only to exit the race when the in-car camera box in his Chevy caught fire.
But both of those instances came on road courses and Robby couldn't shake the label that he couldn't win on an oval _ until now. Robby credited Childress for giving him the chance.
``I've struggled in Winston Cup, a lot of people doubted me,'' he said. ``I had to do a lot of talking to Richard to convince him to take me and believe in me when I told him I could win races on an oval.''
Robby beat Marlin to the finish line by over two seconds. Bobby Labonte was third, Matt Kenseth fourth and Tony Stewart fifth.
The finishing order allowed Stewart to hang on to second-place in the final Winston Cup standings, his highest finish in three years in the series.
Marlin matched his career-best points finish of third in 1995. Ricky Rudd, who waged a battle with Jeff Gordon for much of the summer, dropped to fourth after finishing 13th in the race.