Gordon was quick in practice and was able to improve on that in the qualifying session. "That was pretty fast," Gordon said. "I cut a great lap in practice and thought if I could get anywhere close to that I'd be happy. To actually go out there and go faster than that as cool as these conditions are, I'm ecstatic. These guys brought a great car here today."
This is also the last race for the familiar Rainbow Warrior paint scheme. The #24 DuPont Chevy will have a brand new paint job for the 2001 season.
"I didn't think we had it in the bag because you never know in Winston Cup competition," Gordon said. "Anybody can bust a lap off, but that's a pretty strong lap. It's not windy. It's just cool. As long as the tires grip, the temperature is just fine. In the past, the tires didn't stick when it was this cool, but mine have been sticking right away."
It was the last race of the '90's that saw the dominance of Hendrick Motorsports, the last race of NASCAR 2000, Darrell Waltrip's last race, the last broadcast for ESPN for the short term future, and the final showing of the familiar paint scheme of the #24 DuPont Chevy. But on this day of endings, one driver began something new. Jerry Nadeau won his first Winston Cup series race. This is most likely the first of many to follow.
Jeff Gordon started the NAPA 500 from the pole and lead the first four laps, but his car was very loose and the lead was taken from him by Jerry Nadeau on lap 4. Gordon quickly fell backwards, and was back in 12th place by lap 10.
Two early cautions came out in the first 21 laps, but the 24 team did not pit. They were waiting for the mandatory caution that NASCAR would throw at lap 35 because of the absence of a Happy Hour practice the day before. However, it wasn't until lap 37 that caution came out, and the #24 team pitted, going down two rounds of wedge to tighten up the car. Gordon restarted in 12th.
It was in this position that Gordon stayed for much of the race, between tenth and thirteenth positions.
When the caution came out on lap 130 for Michael Waltrip's fiery accident, it was the beginning of a 190 lap green flag run. Gordon's car seemed to like long green runs as he gained 9 positions, putting himself in 4th.
He fell back to 6th after the first green flag pit stop of the day, only to pick up two more spots and get back in 4th.
At lap 250 Gordon made another pit stop under the green and fell back this time to 8th. He picked up a couple more spots before short-pitting at lap 284. This pit stop put him a lap down, as the leaders wouldn't be making their stops for another 10 laps, which they did under the green.
Meanwhile, Jerry Nadeau was tearing through the pack and locked Gordon a lap down. But 5 laps later, caution came out and Jerry let Jeff get his lap back.
This set the stage for a last lap shoot-out. All the leaders pitted and Gordon was back on the lead lap. Ward Burton started first, followed by Nadeau. Nadeau got over anxious and almost passed Ward on the inside on the restart, which is a penalty. Fortunately, Jerry caught himself and waited to pass him in turn one. With Burton behind him Nadeau cruised, but Earnhardt was coming on strong. Back thru the field, drivers were working for position, and Gordon was able to pass Bobby Labonte and finish 4th. Dale Earnhardt, Ward Burton, and Bobby Labonte rounded out the top-five.
Gordon finished the season ninth in the points standings, and Bobby Labonte won his first Winston Cup Championship. Congratulations to him and his team.
Jeff Gordon Quotes-
"They are definitely different (Charlotte and Atlanta), but I can say that the setups are very similar. We ran almost the exact same setup today that we ran in Charlotte. I think the corners are a little bit tighter, not quite as fast at Charlotte, but the setups are very similar. You don't let off the gas much here. Really, to win the pole you can't get out of the gas. You've got to ease off of it and then get right back in it hard. I think that obviously we learned some things at Charlotte. We got the car very comfortable and sat on the pole there. Those same things paid off here. This is the same car we had at Charlotte, but as you remember we crashed it at Charlotte in the race and we had to put a new body on it, at least the front end of the body. They did a great job rebuilding that body. It was very good here today. We've got to get a little bit better in the race than we were at Charlotte. We fell back at Charlotte. I think we know what we've got to do for the race. I'm looking forward to the race on Sunday.
"I think this right here today was a big plus. These guys are pumped up. I really see them coming together as a team. We're gaining momentum, and I see a big difference in the chemistry of the team. We know we're not in it for the championship this year. We're ninth in points. We're just trying to build for next year. Runs like today, and hopefully a good run on Sunday, will do a tremendous amount for our race team and our run for next year's championship.
"Once you've won one championship then your only goal is to win another championship. That's our goal now every year to win the championship. This year we went through a lot of changes with personnel and the body change and the tire change with Goodyear. It hasn't been a stellar year for us and we know that. I think what we want to do is take this group we've got right now and build on that to be championship caliber by the time we get to Daytona next year. Over the last 10 races, I think other than one or two glitches, we've shown we're championship caliber because we've been finishing in the top five and top 10. I still would like to get our car a little more competitive to get up there and battle for more wins. That's traditionally the way we've won championships and that's the way I'd like to win a championship again. In order to be more competitive, we've got a little work to do still, mainly on our bodies. The team has come together. We've just got to get the car a little better.
"I'm very fortunate where I've been a part of two legends finishing up their careers here at Atlanta. Obviously the first one was Richard Petty. That was my first race and it was a real treat to be a part of that. I don't know if I even knew how special it was that day. Now to be a part of Darrell and his career. He's been a tremendous inspiration to me. I've really gotten to know Darrell. I didn't get a chance to know Richard Petty. We didn't get to race together a whole lot. Darrell is just somebody who has a lot of character. He's done a tremendous amount in this sport and for this sport. We're going to miss him, that's for sure. We're looking forward to seeing him in the booth and hearing him in the booth. I definitely wish him all the best, especially here on Sunday. He's influenced me in a lot of ways. With my relationship with God, he's influenced me a lot with that, but also there's just times you've got to show your emotions and true self and feelings, and he's certainly always been one to do that. He's influenced me with that many times, too."