DOVER, Del. (Sept. 26, 2004) – Jeff Gordon wasted no time getting back to the top of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series championship standings, regaining the lead Sunday after a solid third-place finish at Dover International Speedway.
Gordon, who briefly slipped to third in points after the Sept. 19 event at Loudon, N.H., worked his way from the 21st starting position to earn his 12th top-five result of 2004. He is now one marker ahead of second-place Kurt Busch and holds an 18-point margin over third-place Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“We made big gains for sure,” Gordon said of his No. 24 DuPont team. “I’m real proud of these guys for that effort. We had great pit stops. We just never gave up on it.
“Early on, I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t have given us a shot at a top-20. We kept fighting on it and fighting with the car and we finally got it pretty decent there and got some good track position.
“I’m really proud of Robbie (Loomis, crew chief) and all the guys on this DuPont Chevrolet. That’s the type of effort it’s going to take for us to win this championship.”
Jimmie Johnson, another title contender, is now fourth in the standings—57 points back of Gordon—after finishing 10th despite being penalized for speeding on pit road. Even after a trying afternoon at Dover, Team Lowe’s Racing still managed to post its 17th top-10 finish of the year.
“It was a good day,” said Johnson, who started ninth. “We had one set of tires where we got really tight—blistered the right-front tire. It hurt us. We went down a lap at that point. (Aside from) that, we were probably a top-four, top-three car.
“We just got some bad track position with that (speeding) call on pit road and then that set of tires after we had that penalty—something was wrong with them. We got really tight and lost a bunch around then.”
Driving the No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet, Terry Labonte finished 27th after starting 38th, which kept him steady at 23rd in the NEXTEL Cup standings.
Dover marked Labonte’s 809th career start, tying him with Darrell Waltrip on NASCAR’s all-time list.
Brian Vickers fell victim to “The Monster Mile,” making contact with the retaining wall following a single-car spin early in the race. The rookie was taken to the track’s infield care center and quickly released without injuries, but his No. 25 GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet suffered enough damage to keep the team from returning to action.
“We were pretty bad loose at the start of that race,” said Vickers, now 25th in points. “I was just trying to move around and find the line that would work.
“Up high was working pretty good. I just kept going higher and higher and finally I just went too high. I got up in the marbles and went up and around. It was my bad.”
The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series will next visit the 2.66-mile Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway for Sunday’s EA Sports 500. Live coverage by NBC and MRN Radio will begin at 1:30 p.m. ET.