NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon celebrates after winning the Aaron's 499 race at the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala., Sunday, May 1, 2005.
AP Photo/Dave Martin
TALLADEGA, Ala. There was a time when Jeff Gordon didn't like restrictor-plate racing. No more.
Gordon proved again Sunday he is NASCAR's new king of racing at plate tracks, fighting off challenger after challenger on the way to winning the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway in overtime.
''This is the type of racing where experience is really key,'' Gordon said. ''The more that I get used to watching my mirror, using the air and having the kind of car I had today, I feel like I get better at restrictor-plate racing.''
That's bad news for the rest of the NASCAR Nextel Cup competitors.
It was Gordon's 10th victory overall and fourth in the last five races at Talladega and Daytona, the only tracks at which NASCAR requires the horsepower-sapping plates to slow the cars.
Gordon, who has complained in the past that the constant two- and three-wide racing in huge packs at Talladega gives him a headache, said, ''Oh, I've got a headache, but with a car like I had today it isn't a very big headache.
''This is the most dominating performance we've ever had on a plate track. Talladega is not a handling tracks. It's pure speed and man, this car had it.''
The four-time Cup champion led 139 of the 194 laps on the way to his fourth victory on the 2.66-mile oval. He finally held off Tony Stewart and Michael Waltrip at the end of a two-lap shootout, set up by a six-car crash with one lap remaining in regulation that ended the chances of fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr.
By staying up front most of the day, Gordon was able to avoid a wild 25-car crash that took out several top contenders, as well as the crash on lap 187 that involved Earnhardt, series points leader Jimmie Johnson and pole-winner Kevin Harvick.
''I definitely did not want to see that last caution,'' Gordon said. ''They were shuffling and dicing back there before that last caution and I was in a better position before that (last) restart.''
But Gordon got a good start when the green flag waved for lap 193 and he stayed out front as the contenders fought it out behind him. Stewart, with Waltrip giving him a hard push, managed to grab the second spot, but finished 0.192-seconds about two car-lengths behind the winner's No. 24 Chevrolet. It is the 13th consecutive victory for Chevy at the Alabama track.
''Michael pushed me all the way down the backstretch on the white flag lap and I still couldn't catch the 24,'' said Stewart, who finished second at Talladega for the fourth time. ''Finishing in the top two isn't bad at this place.''
Gordon defended his victory last year in this race and added this win to triumphs in February in the Daytona 500 and last July at Daytona in the Pepsi 400. He has grabbed the mantle of near invincibility on plate tracks once held by the late Dale Earnhardt and inherited by Earnhardt Jr. and Waltrip, who drives for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Jeremy Mayfield finished fourth, followed by Jamie McMurray, Elliott Sadler and defending series champion Kurt Busch.
Earnhardt, who has five Talladega victories, including one last fall, was able to continue after the last crash and finished 15th.
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