Share this article

print logo

SWEET VICTORY FOR GORDON COMES DOWN TO THE PITS

Jeff Gordon's crew did in the pits what the driver couldn't do on the track.

Unable to put his car up front until his crew got him out of the pits first on a late-race fuel and tire stop, Gordon held off teammate Terry Labonte for the lead the rest of the way and won the Food City 500 on Sunday.

"All we needed was one good pit stop there at the end, and we got it," Gordon said after his 31st career victory and his fourth in a row in the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Gordon, the defending Winston Cup champion, finished about five car-lengths ahead of Labonte and became the first repeat winner in the circuit's six races so far this year.

The first short-track race of 1998 featured plenty of bumping and banging, leading to 14 caution periods and one brief red-flag period to clean up the debris on Bristol's .533-mile, high-banked oval. The most serious crash sent Hut Stricklin to a local hospital for X-rays of his neck and back. No broken bones were detected, and Stricklin was released.

It was a difficult day for Rusty Wallace, who came in leading the season driver standings by 54 points over teammate Jeremy Mayfield after top-five finishes in each of the first five races.

Wallace dominated the first half of the race and led six times for 220 laps before fading from contention when his Ford Taurus developed engine trouble. He fell one lap off the pace on lap 423, and 13 laps later, he ran over a chunk of debris and slammed into the first-turn wall, ending his day.

"I really thought the engine gremlins were gone, but it's started again," said Wallace, who failed to finish 11 races last year. "But I'm not worried about bouncing back. I know we're going to do that."

Wallace finished 33rd, shrinking his lead over Mayfield to a single point.

Labonte, who has seven straight top-10 finishes at Bristol, was leading with Gordon third at the time of Wallace's crash.

But Gordon's crew got his Chevrolet Monte Carlo out of the pits ahead of everyone else, and Labonte, who got out second, was unable to catch him the rest of the way.

"What an awesome team," Gordon said. "They deserve all the credit on this one."

Gordon appeared to be safely on the way to the checkered flag when he caused the day's final caution flag by running into the rear of the lapped car of Greg Sacks on lap 484, sending Sacks spinning down the backstretch.

Gordon took full blame for the incident, saying he cut it too close in his attempt to pass Sacks as they came out of the second turn.

"I was hoping he wouldn't be there when I got there, and he was," Gordon said. "I truly didn't mean to get into him."

Last year's race set a Winston Cup record with 20 caution periods, and Sunday's event began on a pace to eclipse that mark, with the yellow flag flying five times in the first 103 laps.

The crash that sent Stricklin to Wellmont Regional Medical Center occurred on lap 155, when Brett Bodine made contact with Stricklin's Chevrolet, sending it spinning down the frontstretch. The car hit the outside retaining wall at the entrance to the first turn and began sliding down the 36-degree banking, sending up a large cloud of tire smoke as a pack of cars approached.

Kenny Wallace decided to try getting by on the high side, but he didn't get nearly high enough. His Ford came barreling through the smoke and T-boned Stricklin's car directly on the driver's side door.

Stricklin and Wallace stayed in their cars for several minutes before being assisted to ambulances, and both were visibly shaken. Wallace, who had the wind knocked out of him, was examined at the infield hospital and released.

Hakkinen bags Brazilian GP

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Mika Hakkinen dominated the Brazilian Grand Prix, earning his third straight victory and showing that the McLarens will be the cars to beat in the 1998 Formula One season.

In a repeat performance of McLaren's 1-2 finish in the season opener at Melbourne three weeks ago, Hakkinen's teammate, David Coulthard, was the runner-up.

Hakkinen, of Finland, who won the Grand Prix in Australia and the final race of the 1997 season, zoomed into the lead at the start and never relinquished it.

He completed the 72-lap race around the 2.667-mile Jose Carlos Pace track in 1 hour, 37 minutes, 11.747 seconds -- 1.102 seconds ahead of his Scottish teammate.

More than one minute behind Hakkinen was Germany's Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari in 1:38:12.297.

"The thing I'm most happy about is the start," Hakkinen said. "It is very difficult here because it is uphill on the start line, so the car tends to roll backwards. But it worked out well . . ."

There are no comments - be the first to comment