Join HendrickMotorsports.com for a look back at Hendrick Motorsports’ three night victories at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. This third installment shares highlights from the 2002 event at the .533-mile oval.
BRISTOL, Tenn. – There’s nothing like short track racing under a full moon on Saturday night. The electricity that fills the air brings about an on-track intensity that often is escalated beyond the norm. For Jeff Gordon, the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet, the Aug. 24, 2002, event at Bristol Motor Speedway embodied this racing passion.
That night, while drivers displayed hand gestures, threw objects and smacked the side of ambulances after incidents, Gordon ran a drama-free race. He started the event from the pole position and settled into the top three in the early stages, finally taking the lead on Lap 131. Gordon led 232 of the next 242 laps and remained out front until crew chief Robbie Loomis called him to pit road for the final time during a Lap 371 caution. Gordon returned to the track in the 10th position and cracked the top five within 82 laps. On Lap 482, Gordon was running second and chasing race leader and nine-time Bristol winner Rusty Wallace.
As the laps wound down, so did the gap between first and second. Gordon erased a half-second deficit on Wallace and moved right up to his back bumper. In a move reminiscent to Gordon’s April 1997 victory at Bristol, the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet utilized the aptly named “bump-and-run” maneuver to move Wallace out of the way and reclaim the lead. Gordon drove away from there, leading the final three laps and earning his fourth career victory at the half-mile oval. The win was also the first from the pole for Hendrick Motorsports and the seventh overall for team owner Rick Hendrick.
“I’m so thankful I tell ya. I just wanted it really, really bad,” Gordon told TNT’s Bill Weber in Victory Lane. “I just wanted to take advantage of an opportunity. These guys gave me such an awesome race car. Great pit stops all night long. They deserve a win. We’re so fortunate. It’s just been an amazing night. I feel like this is the first time I’ve ever won.”
Weber also asked Gordon about the pass on Wallace.
“Yeah you know, he got bottled up in some traffic and I knew if I could get to him I could make a move,” Gordon said. “He got real loose and shut the door on me and once he shut the door on me I said, ‘All right, fair game right there.’ So I got into him a little bit and he got loose and I hope he’ll understand tomorrow.”
Wallace didn’t see it the same way. “You get nailed in the rear-end and turned sideways on the last lap …I didn’t expect it,” he said to TNT’s Dave Burns. “He got to me where he could hit me. I was trying desperately to knock the (expletive) out of him. I just couldn’t catch him.”
Gordon closed out the 2002 season ranked fourth in the championship standings on the strength of three victories, 13 top-five finishes and 20 top-10s.
Visit Heritage.HendrickMotorsports.com for photos of this event and a complete look at the history of Hendrick Motorsports.