With eight laps to go at the Subway Fresh Fit 500 race at Phoenix International Raceway, Jeff Gordon took the lead over fellow NASCAR all-star, Kyle Busch and never looked back. Crossing the finish line in 1st place ended the longest winless streak of Gordon's illustrious career that had spanned 66 races. It was his first win since April 2009 at Texas.
The victory was Gordon's 83rd of his career tying him for fifth all-time in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins with NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee, Cale Yarborough.
|Jeff Gordon celebrates his win in victory lane at the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday|
Kyle Busch, who was the hands down favorite to win in his M&M's sponsored Toyota, did manage to hold on for second, falling just one place shy of sweeping the weekend of NASCAR events for the second time in his career. Busch won the NASCAR truck series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series races in the weekend before attempting to take the checkered flag on Sunday's Sprint Cup race.
NASCAR big names Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five, but the day belonged to Gordon, who is seeking his sixth career Sprint Cup Series Championship in 2011 and first since 2004. Winning and getting top points at Phoenix was a great start to the long and grueling summer ahead.
Gordon, who started 20th in the race had to overcome a near tragic accident at the beginning where he was forced into the wall by Carl Edwards on a chain reaction that started with Brian Vickers getting loose and making contact with Matt Kenseth on turn 2. As a result, Gordon then had to shake a piece of debris from his grill at high speed all while maintaining control of his car and staying with the flow of traffic. The incident led to a 13 car wreck and a 14 minute red flag to clean it up, but Gordon came out unscathed.
Considering his poling time that led him to start 20th, it seems that the 24 car and their crew had made some mistakes in adjusting to track conditions when attempting to qualify. The qualifying was a milestone day for the Phoenix track, that is scheduled for a $10 Million repaving that is set to be complete before the fall race that will be held there which isn't a popular move by most drivers. Qualifying times were blazing fast as 15 drivers each eclipsed the track's time and speed record set by Carl Edwards last fall. Fittingly, Edwards set the new track speed record, again, at 137.28mph. Never have fans seen so many drivers surpass a track speed record in a single day.
Gordon's strong showing at Phoenix, where he also led the most laps, is an indication of things to come. It's been much of a surprise that Gordon has taken this long to capture 1st place in a race driving for the New York Yankees of NASCAR teams in Hendrick Motorsports. This was one of Gordon's best triumphs overcoming much adversity through the race to come out on top.
As surprising a win as this was for Gordon, it is fitting he would end his drought at Phoenix International Raceway. It seems to be a place for ending droughts. Ryan Newman snapped a 77 race winless streak at Phoenix last fall and recently Carl Edwards did the same ending a 70 race drought.
Look for Gordon to be a real factor in the season and a dark-horse to dethrone Jimmie Johnson's 5 time defending Sprint Cup Series Champion Lowe's #48 car in 2011.