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Gordon: ‘Don’t Count Us Out’

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Aug. 26, 2002) —Defending NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon ended a 31-race losing streak on Sunday at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, winning the Sharpie 500 in dramatic fashion with a late-race pass of Rusty Wallace.

“I just think it’s so big, period,” said Gordon, who started on the pole. “It feels like the first one all over again. I can tell you we do not take wins for granted. These things are hard to come by and we appreciate them and that moment there in victory lane I wanted to pause it and burn it into my memory forever because it’s just such an awesome, awesome feeling.

“There’s just no other high in the world like it to be able to experience that and to see the look on these guys’ face and the excitement in their voice. I don’t know how to describe it—it’s just big.

“As far as the championship,” he continued, “I think it just kind of serves notice to a lot of people that we’re not out of it, don’t count us out. That when things go our way, like they did tonight, we are going to be able to stay on top of things and get to victory lane.”

The victory was Gordon’s first since September of 2001 and fifth at the .533-mile Bristol oval. The performance ended the longest winless streak of his career.

“I don’t think the losing streak was wearing on me as much as just maybe missed opportunities or not being able to capitalize on some good cars that we’ve had,” said the four-time Winston Cup champion. “I know that if this team is in position at the end of the race, if we’re in the top four or five week in and week out, we’re going to win races.”

Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, jumped two positions to third in the overall Winston Cup driver standings, just 111 points behind first-place Sterling Marlin and a mere 16 back of second-place Mark Martin.

Joe Nemechek started 20th and finished 27th at Bristol in the No. 25 UAW-Delphi Chevy. He remains 37th in points after missing three races earlier in the year.

Driving the No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevy, Terry Labonte started 24th and finished 30th after suffering engine problems and a cut tire. The two-time champion dropped one position to 18th in the point standings.

Jimmie Johnson qualified 32nd and finished 34th in the No. 48 Lowe’s Monte Carlo, his worst showing since a 37th-place performance at the Brickyard 400 on Aug. 4. The rookie dropped two spots in the standings to fifth overall.

The NASCAR Winston Cup Series will next visit Darlington (S.C.) Raceway on Sunday, Sept. 1 for the Mountain Dew Southern 500, scheduled for a 1 p.m. EDT start.

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