Gordon wins second straight

Posted: Monday, May 03, 2004

FONTANA, Calif. No flying beer cans and jeers for Jeff Gordon on Sunday at California Speedway. It was all cheers and smiles as the California native won his second straight NASCAR Nextel Cup race.

A week after beating fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a controversial finish at Talladega, Gordon dominated on the way to victory in the Auto Club 500, his third victory in eight tries on the 2-mile California oval. He is the only Cup driver with more than one win here.

''When they dropped the green flag, this car just ran straight to the front,'' Gordon said. ''Randy Dorton in the engine department, thank you, thank you. This was the baddest engine we've ever had under the hood.''

Bobby Labonte moved into second place on the 222nd of the 250 laps and was chopping steadily into Gordon's lead until he ran out of gas midway through the final lap. Labonte, who moved within about 10 car lengths of Gordon, coasted to the end, finishing fifth.

''Nobody told me we were going to be short (of gas) and I didn't ask,'' Labonte said, shrugging off the disappointing finish. ''It was still a good day.''

He was not the only driver who got caught trying to stretch his final tank of gas to the end.

Gordon's teammate Jimmie Johnson, who started the last lap in fifth, passed Labonte and wound up second when both Evernham Motorsports teammates Jeremy Mayfield and rookie Kasey Kahne had to pit for fuel.

It was a very different scene from a week earlier, when the race finished under caution and Gordon was awarded the victory by NASCAR, which said he was in front of Earnhardt when the final caution flag came out four laps from the end.

Earnhardt was in the process of passing Gordon when the caution came out. Thousands of Earnhardt fans tossed beer cans and garbage onto the track as the cars drove slowly to the finish behind the pace car.

This time, the fans who stayed until the end in the near-100-degree heat stood and cheered as he took the checkered flag.

Gordon, too, cut it close on fuel.

''I went to do my burnout and spin around in the grass and ran out of gas,'' Gordon said, grinning.

He led five times for a race-high 81 laps four more than Kahne taking the lead for the final time with 47 laps remaining during a series of green-flag pit stops.

Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet wound up beating Johnson's No. 48 Chevy across the finish line by 12.871 seconds nearly a third of lap. It was the 66th victory of Gordon's career and the 15th time he has won at least two straight races.

Combined with a 19th-place finish for series leader Earnhardt, who struggled with handling throughout the race, Johnson moved within 25 points of the orerall Nextel Cup lead and Gordon within 27.

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