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The Winston - Lowe's Motor Speedway

Qualifying-
NASCAR's all-star race needs an all-star qualifying format, and The Winston has just such a system. Drivers take three laps and must make a mandatory pitstop for four tires and fuel. Unfortunately, Jeff Gordon didn't have anything for Bud Pole winner Rusty Wallace during qualifying for The Winston on Friday night. Gordon's total time for three laps and a pitstop was 117.032 sec, less than 2 seconds behind Wallace, but was only good enough for 10th place.

Fortunately, as Gordon noted, races aren't won during qualifying.

"We didn't get it done today, that's for sure," Gordon said. "We weren't good on the track or on pit stops. I think we've got a good car for tomorrow night though. The car feels good and the motor is real strong, but we're off a good two or three-tenths on the track. You've got to have everything go perfect during qualifying for The Winston, but the pole doesn't win you the race."

Hopefully everything is in place for Saturday night's three segment race. If all goes well, and Jeff Gordon wins, he will become only the second driver to win it three times. The last to do it was the late Dale Earnhardt.

Race-

In one of the weirdest (even for The Winston) race weekends ever, Jeff Gordon emerged victorious as only the second three-time winner of The Winston, NASCAR's All-Star race.

However, it didn't come easily.

As 21 drivers came down to take the green flag for the start of the race, rain began pelting Lowe's Motor Speedway. Tony Stewart and Steve Park spun their tires right at the start-finish line because the track was so wet and almost lost control.


Waltrip T-bones Gordon on Lap 1

But when the pack went down into turn one, all heck broke loose. First Kevin Harvick got loose and went into the wall, then Jeff Gordon lost control and ran into Jeff Burton before slamming the wall and getting hit in the side by Michael Waltrip. Before one lap could be completed, NASCAR officials waved the yellow flag and then the red flag as the rains fell harder and harder.

Then, realizing the error in their hasty decision to start the race, NASCAR allowed those four drivers - Harvick, Burton, Gordon, and Waltrip - to go to their backup cars since caution laps don't count and the race therefore hadn't technically started. Crews scrambled to prepare these spare race cars for racing conditions. Burton's team made an engine change, but the #24 DuPont Chevy team did not. Gordon said that the engine in the primary car was very strong, but that the engine in the backup car wasn't quite as good. Still, he remained hopeful.

"If we can use the backup car and go out and win this thing in it," Gordon said, "boy, wouldn't that be a story!"

That it was.

At 11:30, two and a half hours past schedule, the field completed the first lap of 2001's The Winston. By the end of the first segment Gordon had moved from last place, the position he had to start from after going to a backup car, to fourth place. After the 12 car inversion, Gordon would start from 8th spot for the second thiry-lap segment. He quickly made his way to the front, following Tony Stewart, but remained in second until the end of the second segment.

Then came the always critical last pit stop during a scheduled caution with ten laps to go. Ward Burton took on two tires along with Rusty Wallace and Jeremy Mayfield. Gordon, who took on four tires, just barely beat Dale Jarrett out of pit road. Fortunately for Gordon, Wallace and Mayfield were caught speeding and would start at the back of the pack. This bumped Gordon up to second.

When the field moved double-file toward the green flag, Ward Burton got the jump on Jeff and almost pulled Jarrett with him. However, Gordon's car was good up high and he was able to motor past both drivers in two laps. He would remain at the front, with little serious threat from Jarrett until the checkered flag flew.

As usual, Gordon was quick to thank others for his racing success. "Two things: I've got to thank God, he kept me safe in that first wreck, and I've got to thank this race team," Gordon said. "This is just an awesome, awesome race team."

 

"To have a backup car that good, and to be able to pull it off the truck in that king of situation and win The Winston, man that's just awesome. To use that back up car. Man, now that's quite a story."

Gordon has pulled off the rare double once before: winning The Winston and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same year. He did it in 1997. He hopes to do it again.

The car that was used by the team at The Winston is not the same care that they are using for the Coca-Cola 600 next weekend. Still, Tony Stewart insists on shooting his mouth off.

"You have weeks like this, but I'll tell you what, I'm really looking forward to next week because we had a great car on long runs," Stewart said. "(Gordon) better have more than that next week."

Don't worry Tony, he will.

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