AVONDALE, Ariz. (Nov. 7, 2004) – Jeff Gordon earned a third-place finish at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, closing the gap between himself and points leader Kurt Busch in NASCAR’s “Chase for the NEXTEL Cup.”
Gordon, who started seventh in the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, moved from third to second in the standings, just 41 points back with two races remaining.
“We don’t mind chipping away at it,” Gordon said of Busch’s lead. “The final outcome is what we’re looking for in Homestead (Fla.).
“Today was a ‘must finish ahead of those guys’ day. We came into the day saying we have to win. But we finished third and we made gains. It was a good day for us.”
Although he technically dropped from second to fourth in the official rankings, Jimmie Johnson also had a solid points day, finishing sixth after a 13th-place start in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy.
“It’s great to come back,” said Johnson, who made up ground in the Chase and now sits 48 points back. “We went down a lap and got our lap back. And we were able to work our way back up there to sixth.”
Starting from the outside pole position, Brian Vickers enjoyed another steady performance Sunday, but a loose left-rear wheel kept it from showing in the final rundown. The 21-year-old rookie finished 18th in the No. 25 GMAC Financial Services Monte Carlo.
Vickers is 26th in the standings.
Terry Labonte started 31st and rallied from an early one-lap deficit, but with the race two-thirds completed, his No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevy was bumped by Greg Biffle. The contact sent Labonte sliding into the inside wall along the PIR front stretch.
Damage to the rear of the No. 5 Chevrolet was repaired, but it forced Labonte off the pace and he was saddled with a 32nd-place finish.
The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series will next visit Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, site of the storied Mountain Dew Southern 500, which Labonte won in 2003. NBC (1 p.m. ET) and MRN Radio (12:30 p.m. ET) will broadcast the race live.