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Chevy Monte Carlo 400 - Richmond, Virginia

Qualifying-
After posting a fourth best time in the final practice before Friday's Bud Pole Qualifying session, Jeff Gordon looked have a car capable of the pole position. Provisional Bud Pole sitter Rusty Wallace, when asked if he thought he could get his 9th pole of the season, quoted, "I'm worried about Gordon, he's pretty quick." Unfortunately, Gordon was not a contender for even a top-five starting spot. His second lap was the fastest, at 21.661 seconds. This was good enough for only the thirteenth starting position. Getting the last draw appeared to be a definite advantage, because the track would be cooler and the tires would grip better. However, Gordon's car appeared to be too loose, as one could see the back end jump out in turn 4 on the first lap. Jeff Burton got his second Bud Pole of his career, with a time of 21.446 seconds.

The team had some problems during qualifying, however. Right after the team rolled the car out on to the qualifying grid, they started it up to make sure everything was running right. After running for a little bit, the car starting blowing oil out of the overflow reservoir underneath the car. If the team had not seen this, the result would have been oil getting on the wheels during the qualifying run and a wrecked race car. Luckily they saw the problem and jacked the car up to fix it right in the qualifying line.

Qualifying was delayed twice. The first delay came when Scott Pruett spun off of Turn 2 and crashed into the inside wall. The second when Sterling Marlin's motor blew and NASCAR went out to check for oil on the racing surface.

Race-
He looked like the Jeff Gordon of old Saturday night as he fought hard to win in the Chevy Monte Carlo 400 at RIR. He and the team did their best to stay in the top ten all night, slowly advancing on the leaders, and taking the lead themselves by the time the checkered flag fell.

After a month where everything that could go wrong did, Saturday night was the shot in the arm that the team needed. With the momentum gained from last weekend's third place finish at Darlington, the team worked hard all weekend after a qualifying effort that was not as good as they had hoped for.

Gordon was passed early on by Tony Stewart, but after a few more laps regained the position when he got past Ken Shrader to move into 13th. He passed Johnny Benson and Stewart, but Stewart got his spot back after a few more laps. In the first caution, the pit crew got in a fast stop and picked up 3 spots for Gordon. After the track clean-up crew towed away the remains of Michael Waltrip's car the race was restarted on lap 44.

Right after the restart Gordon gained two positions by passing Dave Blaney and Mark Martin. Again he was passed by Stewart who restarted farther back, but Gordon held his line and was able to pass Ward Burton to take back the 7th position.

After another caution, this time for Joe Nemechek, Gordon was able to pass teammate Jerry Nadeau to put himself in 6th position. Then the 5th caution came out for Jimmy Spencer's and Dave Blaney's wrecked race cars. The crew put up another great stop and got Jeff back out in 5th spot. He rode along this way for quite awhile until Jeff Burton bobbled and slid up the track allowing Gordon to move into 4th spot.

This green flag run lasted quite awhile, and Jeff came in for tires and gas on lap 292, on of the first to do so. A hang-up on the right rear made for a 19.8 second stop. However, 4 cars were still ahead and one still had to make a pit stop. They had actually gained a position. A couple of laps later Gordon passed Bobby Labonte to take over the third position. He then went for second place Tony Stewart, but Stewart raced hard and Jeff could not get the spot. He race Labonte for a few laps and finally fell back to 4th place.

Then Rusty Wallace's engine let loose and the leaders pitted under caution. After a 15.5 second pit stop, Gordon was back on the track in 2nd place. However, Jeff Burton was able to get around him on the outside and he fell back to 3rd.

When the caution came out again on lap 355, Gordon got gas and tires in 15.3 seconds, the fastest among the leaders. Unfortunately Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton both got off of pit road faster then Gordon, and he didn't gain any positions. Then, Bobby Labonte had to come back in because of a leaky power steering pump. Gordon was in 2nd.

Labonte came out of the pits just ahead of the leaders and was fighting to stay on the lead lap. Jeff Burton was able to get past him because Labonte didn't have power steering, which made his car a handful. Gordon was able to get around him and started to cut the distance between him and leader Jeff Burton.

Suddenly, the final caution flag of the night flew for a problem on Casey Atwood's car. Gordon took the caution in second place and was following Jeff Burton as they headed toward pit road. Burton started to head down pit road, but at the last minute took a hard right back onto the track. Gordon followed.

12 cars were on the lead lap and some of them out of the top-5 decided to make pit stops, one of them being Dale Earnhardt.

The green flag flew with 14 laps to go and Gordon had to make his move to get around Jeff Burton. He got the nose of his car just barely on the outside of Burton's coming out of Turn 2. Gordon and Burton raced down the backstretch and through Turns 3 & 4. Down the frontstretch Gordon pulled out ahead of Burton and headed into Turn 1. Earnhardt who had fresh tires, was making a charge for the front, but he battled Steve Park for two long and was never able to catch Jeff Gordon. His margin of victory was 0.744 seconds.

"I went to the top. I was just fortunate to get up beside him," Gordon said of the final restart when he passed Burton. "The car stuck for me. I thought if we could get ahead of him, we could win the race. I didn't know about Earnhardt... I just tried to get out there and run as hard as I could."

Jeff averaged 99.870 mph in the race on his way to his 52nd career victory. He moved within one win of tying Rusty Wallace for eighth on the all-time win list. While he remains in 10th place in the point standings, Jeff's win put him just 183 points out of fifth place. After Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett had rough nights, Dale Earnhardt was able to move into 2nd in the Winston Cup Points Standings.

Next weekend the guys head to New Hampshire International Speedway. NASCAR has made a new mandate that the cars have restrictor plates to keep the speed down, along with other special rules for New Hamshire.

Article by: Charlie Young