BROOKLYN, Mich. (Aug. 22, 2004) – Jeff Gordon finished seventh Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, becoming the first driver to clinch a position in NASCAR’s “Chase for the NEXTEL Cup.”
The performance, his series-leading 17th top-10 of 2004, moved Gordon to the front of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series standings with three races remaining before the final 10-race championship hunt.
Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolets, is now 68 points ahead of teammate Jimmie Johnson, who finished 40th after engine problems sidelined his Michigan effort.
“I was going down the straightaway on the backstretch and it acted like it was running out of fuel,” said Johnson of his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy. “I looked down at my fuel pressure and everything was fine. Then right away I could smell some oil and knew we had dropped a cylinder. It’s a shame.”
Brian Vickers finished 22nd in the No. 25 GMAC Financial Services Monte Carlo after battling handling problems for much of the afternoon. He is now 24th in the standings.
“Early in the race our car was too tight in the center, but as the race went on our biggest challenge ended up being our car was too loose,” Vickers said. “It was very ‘twitchy’ and felt at times like it could spin out at any moment.
“We just never really found the handle on the car we needed to be competitive.”
Another driver fighting handling issues was Terry Labonte, who finished 27th in the No. 5 Kellogg’s/Delphi Chevy. The two-time champion is 23rd in points.
Thanks to inclement weather, Friday’s qualifying session was canceled, which set Sunday’s starting grid by owner points. Johnson lined up first, followed by Gordon in second and Vickers in 22nd.
Labonte had the 21st spot, but started from the rear of the field after his Kellogg’s Racing team elected to change engines before the event.
Due to the cancellation, Kyle Busch was unable to qualify his No. 84 CARQUEST Chevrolet as scheduled, keeping him out of Sunday’s 400-mile contest.
Driving the No. 16 entry, Greg Biffle won at Michigan to pick up his first victory in more than a year.
The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series will next visit the half-mile “bullring” of Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Saturday’s Sharpie 500 will be broadcast live by TNT (7 p.m. ET) and PRN Radio (1:30 p.m. ET).