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Pepsi 400 - Daytona International Speedway

One year ago:
Restarts plagued all the Chevy drivers, and Gordon was not immune. Jeff would finish in 10th.

When you make a promise, you have to keep it. Jeff Gordon knows that as well as anyone. In practice for Bud Pole Qualifying, Gordon was 41st fastest of 48 drivers. So, the team went to work. The engine tuners found some more horsepower, and others tweaked the car to get the most out of it. Still Gordon didn't think that the car was better than about a 25th place qualifier.

Jeff went onto the track to make his first qualifying lap, and it looked pretty good. However, his second lap was even better. Gordon's second lap timed out at 49.366 sec (182.312 mph). It was good enough for third at the time, but would eventually only be good enough for fifth.

Oh yeah, back to the promise. Jeff was told by a crew member that he would run at least a 49.50.

"I told him I would kiss his bald head if we ran that fast," said Gordon.

So he did.

Jeff Gordon is the first driver to break up Dodge's stranglehold on the first two rows. Sterling Marlin, Ward Burton, Stacy Compton, and Casey Atwood will all start ahead of him. Gordon brought the same car back that he had in Daytona in February, now repaired, and will be looking to extend his points lead on Dale Jarrett once again this weekend.

How much more perfect could it be for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the Pepsi 400 with Michael Waltrip pushing him to the line? Not one bit.

Earnhardt Jr. led the most laps in the race, but had to start from 7th position after a late race caution was brought out for the smoking car of Jeff Gordon.

Oh yeah, Jeff Gordon. I guess this IS The Jeff Gordon Garage, and Gordon IS the points leader. Maybe I should write about him.

From the start of the race Gordon had a loose car, but the crew got it fixed on the first pit stop of the night around lap 50. Gordon got back out on the track, but just didn't seem to have the speed to get the car very far inside the top ten. When the caution came out for Andy Houston's run-in with the frontstretch wall, the leaders dove onto pit road for their second pit stop.

Jeff got back on track and had worked his way up to third place when the draft roared it's ugly head. Before Gordon knew it, he was sliding back and was midpack when it happened.

Drivers were starting to make their last scheduled stops, and Mike Skinner checked up for the slowing car of Mike Wallace. Kurt Busch, who was right behind Skinner, didn't react in quick enough and got into the back of Skinner and spun him around. Gordon tried to avoid the pile of cars in front of him, but could do no more when Sterling Marlin hit him from the side. Gordon spun through the infield grass, and finally came to rest with a pushed in nose, messed up right-side panel, and right front fender. Any one of those things by themselves would cost a win at Daytona, but championship points are valuable so the crew did their best to fix the sheetmetal on the #24 Chevy. The race restarted with eight laps to go, but the caution came out soon because Gordon's car was smoking heavily. Apparently, the twisted sheet metal had cut an oil line and Gordon had to return to fix it. Again, the race was restarted with six laps to go. This time Gordon was given the black flag because his slower car was a hazard to drivers that were going three and four wide down the backstretch. He called it a night, and had to settle for a 37th place finish.

I hate to say this, but Gordon is having a really hard time with special paint schemes. Four times in the last two years he has failed to finish in the top twenty when running a special paint scheme. I'm not superstitious, but I do think it's an odd coincidence. Look for an investigation on this in the upcoming months.

As though an accident and a low finish weren't bad enough, Gordon also took a hit in the points standings. Dale Jarrett finished 13th, and now is only 54 points behind Gordon. Hopefully Jeff can retake some lost ground at the new Chicagoland Speedway next weekend.

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