Gordon wins Chevrolet 400

Sunday, September 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Jeff Gordon has been down this road before at Richmond, coming from nowhere in the waning laps to challenge for victory.

This time, he made it, passing Jeff Burton on the first lap of a restart with 15 circuits to go and winning the Chevrolet 400.

"This is the biggest win of the year for us, no question about it," Gordon said of his 52nd career victory, which was worth $130,220. "It was pretty nice to see how things came together tonight. It says a lot about this race team. Tonight it was a championship caliber team."

Gordon stayed among the leaders but never led until he passed Burton on the outside in turns three and four at Richmond International Raceway, then outran Dale Earnhardt to the finish, winning by .744 seconds.

"I knew we had to take advantage of Jeff on the restart," said Gordon, who won for the third time this year in his Chevrolet.

"Whichever way he went, I was going to go the other way."

Brief as it was, Gordon's battle with Burton for the lead was reminiscent of another duel between the Jeffs in this race in 1998.

In that battle, Gordon came from far behind to catch Burton with five laps remaining, then tried everything he could to pass him only to have Burton answer every wiggle and shake with one of his own in victory.

"He always races me hard," Gordon said of the two, top five finishers in four of the last five events here. "We've had some great battles here."

Earnhardt, racing for a $1 million "No Bull" bonus, moved into second place in the points race on a tough night for points leader Bobby Labonte and defending champion Dale Jarrett, who had been just 111 behind.

"Good points day for us. That's what we needed," Earnhardt said.

Jarrett slammed into the wall less than halfway through the race, lost 14 laps during a green-flag stop for repairs and finished 31st.

Labonte, another of the five drivers racing for the bonus, seemed in position to make a run for the money after emerging from the pits in second place with 45 laps to go. But on his first lap back on the track under the caution, smoke billowed from his power steering mechanism, causing him to pit twice more and dropping him out of contention.

Labonte, a season-worst 26th here in the fall, finished 15th.

With nine races to go, Labonte is 158 points ahead of Earnhardt, who is seeking his record eighth Winston Cup championship. Jarrett dropped to third, 164 back, and Burton is fourth, another 19 behind Labonte.

"We're going to be dogging it and doing all we can," Earnhardt said of his bid to pass Richard Petty as NASCAR's career title leader.

After Earnhardt's Chevy came the Ford of Mark Martin, Steve Park's Chevy and Burton's Ford.

Until the end, neither Gordon nor Earnhardt had been much of a factor, instead biding their time and waiting for a chance to move.

Gordon did it when he came out of the pits second behind Burton with 45 laps to go, and Earnhardt was fourth. Earnhardt pitted again when the final yellow flew with 20 laps to go, emerging sixth for the final run.

After Gordon passed Burton and began to pull away, all eyes seemed to be on The Intimidator, a notorious bad boy with the bonus looming.

Earnhardt passed Bill Elliott and Tony Stewart quickly, then had to work to pass Park, who was having a great night driving a car Earnhardt owns. By the time he got by Park, Gordon was long gone.

The victory was the second of his Gordon's career at Richmond.

He won the spring race on the three-quarter-mile oval in 1996.

The race was slowed eight times for 57 laps by cautions and had 16 lead changes among nine drivers. Gordon's average speed was 99.870 mph.

Rusty Wallace, a short-track specialist who had led 935 of 1,900 laps on tracks shorter than a mile this season, led 88 of the first 178, then fell off the pace until a blown engine ended his evening.

He finished in 34th place, only his fourth trip outside the top 10 in 25 tries here.