AVONDALE, Ariz. – Jeff Gordon pressured Kyle Busch in the closing laps at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday to take the lead and score his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win of the season.
Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, rallied from his 20th starting spot to lead a race-high 138 laps and earn his first Cup win in 66 events. This is Gordon’s second career win at the one-mile desert oval. He last went to Victory Lane there in April 2007 after starting from the pole position.
Gordon improves to 83 career victories, and he now is tied for fifth on the all-time wins list with Cale Yarborough. Hendrick Motorsports now owns 195 in the Cup Series.
Gordon pumped his fists in excitement as he cheered and climbed out of his No. 24 Chevy.
“Are you kidding me?” asked Gordon, who now ranks fifth in the driver standings. “Pinch me, man. Pinch me. We just wanted to get to Victory Lane, but to do it that way and to see the fans reaction? We beat Kyle Busch. We’re the only ones who beat Kyle Busch this weekend.”
Busch, who went to Victory Lane in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series earlier at Phoenix this weekend, was attempting to make history by winning three-in-a-row. But Gordon passed Busch with less than five laps to go to steal the win.
“He just ran me down and flat out passed me,” Busch said afterward.
Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin joined their teammate Gordon in the top 13 on Sunday. Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet, led one lap on Sunday and tried to catch up with Gordon and Busch in the closing laps. But he crossed the finish line third and picked up his first top-five finish of the season. Johnson ranks 13th in the driver standings.
“It was a good day for us," Johnson said. "We didn’t get the preseason testing in that we had hoped. We had some weather hold us off, and I’d say we’ve been working hard this weekend just to understand our new equipment. And throughout the day today we pitted often and early and Chad (Knaus, crew chief) made some great calls on pit road and got the car back underneath me and from there things went well.
"I’m happy to see Jeff (Gordon) in Victory Lane and the more of these Hendrick cars that are running up front, the smarter we’re all going to get as a company.”
Earnhardt narrowly avoided an early multi-car incident early in the race, and improved rapidly from his 35th starting spot in his No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet. A two-time winner at Phoenix, Earnhardt finished Sunday’s race 10th. He ranks 17th in the driver standings.
“We still have a little ways to go but we had a pretty good car," Earnhardt said. "The biggest problem we had was qualifying poorly, trying to overcome that all day. We had a good enough car to run with them guys and kind of proved it in a couple of instances. But, you have to get by them. You get stuck behind them and it’s hard to really show how good the car is. Every time we passed somebody, we just left them. The car was pretty good. I want to thank AMP Energy and National Guard and all of them. Steve (Letarte, crew chief) did a good job. The guys did a good job in the pits. Everybody helped prepare the car all weekend. We did pretty good. We just have to keep working hard and thinking like we are and just try to do better. But, definitely, a step in the right direction.
Martin suffered some damage in that early multi-car incident, but managed to get back on the racetrack with help of his No. 5 team. The driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet quietly drove his way through the field and took 13th. Martin ranks sixth in the driver standings.