Unlucky break stalls Nadeau

Posted: Monday, June 24, 2002

SONOMA, Calif. -- With the bad luck that Ricky Rudd has had, he knows how Jerry Nadeau feels.

Nadeau, driving for Steve Grissom in the No. 44 Dodge, had just two laps left and a wide margin of victory in the Dodge-Save Mart 350 on Sunday when he suddenly spun off the track.

Rudd, who ran a steady race in the No. 28 Havoline Ford after starting back in the seventh position, went on to win for the first time this season.

''We were sort of resigned to the fact that we ran out of time and we were going to run second today, and, all of the sudden, he pulled over and we won the race,'' Rudd said.

''It's not something you want to go bragging about and be proud of, but, again, we've lost some,'' he added. ''We've had some races where we've led the most laps and didn't win the race.''

It was Rudd's second victory on the winding track formerly known as Sears Point Raceway, christened Infineon Raceway over the weekend. Rudd also won the inaugural race in Northern California back in 1989.

Jeff Gordon, who has a NASCAR Winston Cup-record seven road course victories, had early gear trouble and wasn't a factor in the finish. Defending champion Tony Stewart, who held the pole for the 110-lap race on the two-mile course, came in second.

Nadeau, who hasn't had a steady ride since he was let go by Hendrick Motorsports last month, was despondent as he climbed out of his disabled car on the island near turn No. 11.

''We broke a rear end gear,'' Nadeau said. ''The car started vibrating really bad with about four laps to go. I thought it was the fuel pressure, but it wasn't. Coming off turn 11, I spun the gears and we lost the rear end.''

Driving for Petty Enterprises, Nadeau had taken over the lead with 22 laps to go. He hadn't won since Nov. 20, 2000, at Atlanta.

''You hate to see misfortune come those guys' way,'' Rudd said. ''Jerry could have used that shot in the arm.''

Rudd took over on the last turn of the third-to-last lap and led the rest of the way for his 23rd career win. Rudd's last victory came at Richmond last September.

Terry Labonte finished third Sunday, while Kurt Busch and Jeff Green rounded out the top five.

Gordon, who had won three of the last four Sonoma races, moved from fourth to second after the first lap, then overtook Stewart on the final turn of the second.

The four-time Winston Cup champion led for 31 laps until his No. 24 Chevrolet simply lost power with apparent transmission problems. His crew worked furiously on the car's gears back in the garage before Gordon could rejoin the race seven laps back after a caution. Gordon finished 38th.

Stewart also dropped back following the caution for oil on the track when he pitted the No. 20 Pontiac, but was able to make up ground as the race went on.

John Andretti briefly held the lead for the first time ever on a road course, when his well-timed pit stop just before a caution gave his Dodge excellent track position.

But while most of the teams, including Andretti, took another pit stop after the third caution with 25 laps to go, Bill Elliott stayed out and took the lead. It was short-lived, however, when Elliott's Dodge went off-course and Nadeau took the lead.

Winston Cup points leader Sterling Marlin dropped out of the race early when his power steering went out and his engine burned up.

''We've been due to have a little bad luck,'' he said. ''We had it today, so maybe it's over with.''

Stewart won his first pole in 58 races, dating to Martinsville two years ago. His qualifying lap of 93.476 mph on the scenic wine country course also gave Pontiac its first pole of the season.

After Sunday's race, Stewart was dehydrated and was treated with oxygen.

Rudd has 10 top-10 finishes in 14 races at Sonoma, with a track record four poles.

He won twice in the now-defunct Riverside race and twice at Watkins Glen, N.Y., for his other road course victories, joining an elite group of six-time road winners: Gordon, Richard Petty, Bobby Allison and Rusty Wallace.

Rudd moves from eighth to seventh in the Winston Cup point standings. Marlin remains in first place, followed by Mark Martin. Gordon is third.

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