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UAW DaimlerChrysler 400 - Las Vegas Motor Speedway

By JIM UTTER
Thatsracin.Com Writer

Jeff Gordon came from nowhere to win Sunday's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

But for Gordon, that's simply a sign that things are getting back to normal.

"I'm sure a lot of guys are scratching their heads right now going, `Where in the world did Jeff Gordon come from? He was stuck back there in 18th for the first half of the race.' " Gordon said. "We really weren't very good.

"I love races like that - where you get better as the day goes on and you just pick away at it. All of a sudden you look around and go, `I'm leading this thing - I can't believe it.' "

And on Sunday, many of Gordon's competitors couldn't believe it either.

But it's the type of come-from-nowhere race victory that has become a trademark of Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports team over the years, especially in 1998 when he won the series championship and 13 races.

On Sunday, with the help of four fresh tires his team elected to take on the final pit stop of the race - many on the lead lap took two - Gordon ran down Dale Jarrett with 26 of the 267 laps remaining to move into second place.

Race leader Matt Kenseth was forced to make his final pit stop, giving Gordon the lead, which he held until the finish to claim his 53rd career Winston Cup victory and first at Las Vegas.

Jarrett, the pole-winner, finished second; Sterling Marlin was third; Johnny Benson was fourth; and Todd Bodine rounded out the top five.

Gordon, appropriately, also hit the jackpot at Las Vegas. He won a $1 million bonus for the win as part of R.J. Reynolds Co.'s driver bonus program, and earned race fan Rodney Mims of Clanton, Ala., who was paired with Gordon in the contest, a $1 million check of his own.

"This team just did such an incredible job today, you know, they earned every penny," Gordon said. "We started 24th and I knew we had a car capable of moving our way through the field, I just didn't know how far.

"Early on there it was pretty frustrating. The car was real, real tight. And we were in a lot of traffic and it was very hard to pass out there. I think they key seemed to be when they made the two-tire change and got us a little bit of track position."

Gordon's crew chief, Robbie Loomis, elected to try a two-tire stop on Lap 179 to get Gordon better track position and made some adjustments to make the car a little looser.

According to Gordon, the move paid big dividends.

"All of a sudden, our race changed," he said. "We took two tires on and we were driving by guys that took four tires and walking away from them."

Late-race two-tire stops got Jerry Nadeau and Sterling Marlin up front and those two battled for the lead for more than 45 laps. Gordon finally caught Marlin and passed him on Lap 225 before a final round of green-flag pit stops started on Lap 229.

"It looks like (Gordon's team) is pretty much back," Jarrett said. "They started showing that last year, I think. They've got a good race team. At one point it looked like his car was pretty tight and he couldn't go, and they adjusted it his last couple of stops, I guess.

"That's the sign of a good team, so I'm sure they'll be right in the battle for the championship."

After three races, Marlin owns the series points lead, holding a 35-point advantage over Gordon. Marlin, driving one of the new Dodge Intrepids, is the only driver to score top-10 finishes in all three races.

"I thought we had the car today. I could just drive off from them, but it got so loose down there I couldn't drive it," Marlin said. "I don't know what it was. The track changed a lot all day.

"(Team owner) Chip Ganassi has put together a great race team. I'm the same guy who's been driving these cars for quite a while."

As for Gordon's rise to the forefront of the series again, Loomis credits the patience and time Loomis and Gordon have spent together since he joined the team before the start of last season.

"I think that every day that we're together, every practice we're together, every time we're on the race track and we're talking on the cell phone, it's just a building of getting better and better," he said. "Today was just another one of those building blocks of what we're trying to do."

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