Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Sports

Jeff Gordon takes victory, Sprint Cup points lead

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Jeff Gordon hopes history repeats itself.

Gordon won Sunday's NASCAR Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway for his first victory at the 2-mile oval since 2001 — the year Gordon captured the last of his four Sprint Cup titles.

Now Gordon hopes his third win this season will be part of a march toward a fifth championship.

"This team is championship caliber but we have a lot of work to do," Gordon said, adding that winning another title is "going to be tough."

Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet was fast all weekend and he started from the pole position. But he had his hands full with Joey Logano's No. 22 Penske Racing Ford.

"It wasn't an easy victory even though we had a great race car," Gordon said.

Logano led a race-high 86 of 200 laps and, after the final restart, he and Gordon battled side by side for the lead.

But Gordon, 43, pulled away as Logano lost his momentum and fell to third place, behind Kevin Harvick.

"We can win a championship. I really feel we can do that. That's the message I want to put out there," Logano said. "We've got to find a little bit more speed to keep up with one car today — 24 car was the best, only because he was good on the long run. We weren't as good on the long run."

Paul Menard was fourth and Gordon's teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished fifth.

Another Gordon teammate, six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, had a roller-coaster race. After Johnson started 30th, the gear shifter broke in his No. 48 Chevy, forcing his crew to perform makeshift repairs during a pit stop. But Johnson persevered to finish ninth.

Several cars were damaged in an early crash that started when Jeff Burton, driving for Tony Stewart, made slight contact with Stewart-Haas teammate Danica Patrick. Her No. 10 Chevrolet spun in the middle of the pack, collecting the cars of several drivers, including Matt Kenseth.

Stewart sat out the race in the aftermath of the Aug. 9 incident in which his car struck and killed driver Kevin Ward Jr., 20, while Ward was on foot during a sprint-car race in upstate New York.

In response NASCAR told its drivers last week that they'd face sanctions if, following a wreck, they left their cars before being told to do so by safety crews.

So Kyle Larson hesitated ever so slightly before getting out of his car after crashing into the wall Sunday.

But there are exceptions for emergency situations, and the flames visible at the front and back of Larson's Chevrolet certainly qualified.

"A little bit of a hesitation, but I had smoke in the cockpit," Larson said. "Once I got out I stayed as close as I could to the car. I had to get out with all of the smoke in there."

Larson was racing down the backstretch and heading a turn when his right front tire blew and sent the car into the wall.

Gordon won for the 91st time on the Cup circuit, and this is his first three-win season since 2011.

"It's great to see Jeff so happy, he's like a little kid again," said Gordon's team owner, Rick Hendrick. "He's excited to get to the track."

Gordon's victory means there will be a maximum of 15 winners in the first 26 races. That means that, assuming they attempt to qualify for the final three races of the regular season, the 12 winners this season — including Tampa's Aric Almirola — have wrapped up spots in the Chase for the Championship (see chart).

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