In the spring for the Coca-Cola 600, the still-adapting team could only manage to start 14th. They vowed to improve.
That is exactly what happened. However, a pole was not expected. "I don't think I had any idea that it would be quite this good," Gordon said. "But I'm not surprised that it happened here at Charlotte."
Gordon has won the Bud Pole at Charlotte on seven different occasions, the most among active drivers. It was at this track that he got his first pole in 1993. This also marks the 32nd Bud Pole of his career, and the 2nd in NASCAR 2000.
The first caution came out early, on lap six, after Mike Bliss tagged the outside wall. The leaders remained on the track, and racing resumed seven laps later. Jeff fought hard to move up to second place, but was unable to get under Nadeau. Thirty laps into the race, Jeff fell to fourth place when Ricky Rudd was able to complete the pass around him.
During the second caution, brought out on lap 34, the field came in for their first round of pit stops. The Rainbow Warriors kept Gordon in fourth place for the restart on lap 28. While Rudd and Bobby Labonte swapped the lead back and forth, Jeff began to backslide. He fell to 8th place by lap 42, but gained one position back the following lap.
Jeff pushed forward, trying to take sixth place away from Steve Park a couple of laps later. Although Gordon was able to get around Park, both Dale Earnhardt and Ricky Rudd were able to pass Jeff at the same time. By lap 59, Jeff took seventh place back from Rudd.
As the car began to come around, Jeff was able to continue his move forward. By lap 65, Jeff pulled in behind Nadeau, and the two drafted past Ward Burton on the high side. Two laps later Gordon moved into the top-5, however Jeff Burton put the pressure on from behind. Burton took the lap three laps later, and by lap 76 Rudd dropped Gordon to seventh place again.
Both Rusty Wallace and Jeremy Mayfield were forced to pit early due to problems with their cars, so by lap 82 Gordon was back in fifth place. Unfortunately, Steve Park and Dale Jarrett were able to drop Jeff back to seventh place by lap 86.
The yellow flag fell for the third time on lap 87, giving the opportunity for another round of pit stops. The crew put Gordon back onto the track in fifth place, and after a lengthy clean up, racing resumed on lap 94. Jeff quickly moved forward -- passing both Rudd and Jarrett to move into third place by lap 96. Gordon was unable to hold the position, and fell to Jarrett on lap 103 then Rudd by lap 104.
Gordon continued to backslide, and by the 110-lap mark he fell to ninth place. Johnny Benson dropped Gordon to tenth place nine laps later, but by lap 127 Gordon rose to ninth place after passing Robert Pressley. The fourth caution came out on lap 130, and the team had another opportunity to adjust the DuPont Chevrolet. Jeff was the eighth car off pit road.
Three laps after racing resumed on lap 135, Gordon passed Jeff Burton and moved up to seventh place. His assent was slowed on lap 144 when the fifth caution came out due to a multi car incident. When the green flag flew again on lap 144, Jeff had been shuffled back to ninth place. He held that position over the next ten laps.
On lap 159, Rusty Wallace clipped the left rear end of Jarrett's car - sending Jarrett spinning completely around. Jeff said the track was filled with smoke, and his only chance of clearing the wreckage was to go high and hope the cars would slide down the banking. Gordon had traffic below him, and no where to go. Regrettably, the cars did not clear the track soon enough, and Jeff took a hard hit to the front of the DuPont Monte Carlo.
The car was towed to the garage during the sixth caution, and the crew worked feverishly to get it back into the race. With much of the front end missing, the DuPont Chevrolet returned to the track on lap 216, but it was clearly not competitive. Gordon completed 170 laps total before parking it for the day.
Jeff's 39th place finish knocked him back into 10th place in the point standings -- one point behind Ward Burton. Gordon holds a 313-point lead over eleventh place Steve Park, and should easily make the stage at the Waldorf Astoria at season's end.
Next week racing returns to Talladega Superspeedway for the final restrictor plate race of the season. It is also the fifth and final No Bull 5 event of the season. Gordon's last win at Richmond put him in the run for the million. Jeff will be competing against Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin, Steve Park, and Jeff Burton.