JEFF best in battle of Gordons

Monday, August 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) _ Jeff might not have been the best Gordon on the track.

Robby certainly was the unluckiest.

After 57 of 90 laps Sunday at Watkins Glen International, it looked like he might be celebrating his first NASCAR victory. Instead, Jeff Gordon made history by winning the Global Crossing.

``NASCAR owes me one,'' said Robby Gordon, gone two laps later after the telemetry box exploded in flames and filled his car with smoke.

For the second time in a row, he lost a road race when it appeared he had the best car. A malfunction in equipment mandated by NASCAR's TV deal, ended any chance he had.

``We had them covered,'' he said. ``To go out of the race with something that's not driver related or team related is a huge disappointment.''

But there was no disappointment for Jeff Gordon _ unrelated to Robby. The three-time Winston Cup champion became the first driver to win seven road-course races. It also was a record fourth victory at Watkins Glen.

The other three came in Sonoma, Calif., where Robby Gordon probably lost to Tony Stewart two months ago by running his car too hard near the end just to keep pressing rookie Kevin Harvick a lap down.

On Sunday, Robby Gordon's car appeared a bit faster than Jeff Gordon's, but his luck considerably less.

``I backed off and played with him to see where he was strong in case he beat me out of the pits so I could plan on where I would try to get back by him,'' Robby Gordon said. ``I got back by him pretty easy and took off.''

Now, he might get to take the rest of the season off.

Mike Skinner, recovered from a broken left ankle, returns for the Pepsi 400 at Michigan Speedway, ending Robby Gordon's four-week stint in a Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

Robby Gordon, who has had a volatile relationship with some of his previous car owners, began the season with Morgan-McClure. But he was replaced after five races by Kevin Lepage.

NASCAR spokesman John Griffin said the parts from the box were being taken to Charlotte, N.C., where the installer will try to figure out what wrong.

``We need answers quickly and NBC needs answers,'' Griffin said.

The race winner agreed.

``We love TV, we love in-car cameras,'' he said. ``But we can't have it costing us the race.''

Jeff Gordon's victory extended his lead in the points race to 194 over fourth-place finisher Ricky Rudd.

But it wasn't easy _ right to the end. Jeff Burton, with whom Jeff Gordon waged a magnificent battle over the final laps, hit him coming to the final turn.

``If he wanted to, he could have taken me out,'' Gordon said.

Burton thought Jeff Gordon had the better car and credited his talent for helping him win the race.

``I gave him a good shot coming off the last corner but he didn't even budge,'' Burton said.

Jeff Gordon had the lead for only one lap before passing Burton in the first of 11 turns on the 78th of 90 laps. Burton got the lead back on the next turn, but Jeff Gordon beat him through the chicane, making a great save as the cars nearly touched and almost spun.

``He drove in there too deep, and I was surprised he didn't spin out,'' Burton said.

There were two more cautions, but each time Jeff Gordon got a good jump on the restart.

Still, he had a close call that enabled Burton to close in on the final lap.

Elliott Sadler had hit the wall, and his badly bent car was still running _ in the path of the leaders _ as they neared the final turns.

``Elliott Sadler was all over the place, and I was just trying to be cautious,'' Jeff Gordon said. ``But Jeff wasn't because he wanted to win the race.''

Jeff Gordon benefited more from staying out of trouble than fast racing. The rest of the usual road-course contenders had no luck.

Rusty Wallace had mechanical problems and was out after 14 laps, polesitter Dale Jarrett spun out on the 18th lap, and road-racing ace Ron Fellows stalled on lap 36.

Rudd lost his chance when Boris Said, one of road racers aces in the field, made a mad dash toward the front after the race went green on the 84th lap. He passed three cars, then banged Rudd out of the way to take third place.

``Boris just went in there and drove right over the top of us,'' Rudd said. ``We're lucky he didn't wipe out the whole field.''

Jeff Gordon's Chevrolet started 13th in a field of 43 and beat the Ford of Burton by two car-lengths. The victory was his fifth this year, breaking his tie with Jarrett.

Jeremy Mayfield was third and Todd Bodine fifth.