BRISTOL, Tenn. -- When two desperate drivers with lengthy winless streaks came to the end, one was bound to be disappointed.
Jeff Gordon made sure it wasn't him with a bump-and-run past Rusty Wallace with less than three laps to go Saturday night in the Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
''It might be a little controversial, but I don't care,'' Gordon said after ending his 31-race victory drought.
''I think anyone else in that situation would have done the same thing. It is Bristol and I was really hungry and I wanted to get back to Victory Lane so bad.
''That moment there in Victory Lane, I wanted to pause it and freeze it in my mind forever because there's no other high in the world like it.''
Gordon, the four-time and defending Winston Cup champion, passed Wallace by driving his Chevrolet up onto Wallace's bumper and sliding past in Turn 4.
After a series of burnouts, Gordon drove to victory lane and jumped into the arms of car owner Rick Hendrick.
Wallace finished second and wasn't pleased with Gordon's bump, claiming Gordon wouldn't have got past his Ford him without a tap.
''It's been a long time since I won, but it's been a long time since Jeff won, too, and he wanted it bad,'' Wallace said. ''I guess my day's coming. I got nailed in the rear end and got turned sideways, and didn't expect it. I tried hard to nail him back, but never could get to him.''
It was reminiscent of a similar tangle between the two in 1997, when Gordon bumped Wallace out of his way to win the spring race at Bristol.
But there was so much more on the line this time, with both drivers so hungry for a win -- Gordon hadn't won since September, Wallace since April 2001, a streak of 50 races.
Gordon said he had to do it to win his 59th career victory, first since Sept. 30, 2001, and fifth at Bristol, but first in the night race.
''I don't think anyone was hungrier than me and Rusty, both of us wanted to win so bad and both of us were on a mission,'' Gordon said. ''I think the opportunity presented itself and it reminded me of the one time I passed Rusty the same way a few years ago.
''We were just pushing really hard, I jumped up on him and he shut the door on me. After that, I was glued to his bumper and waited for my opportunity. I was going after it, though.''
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third in a Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick was fourth and Matt Kenseth was fifth.
Kurt Busch, who won here in March, finished sixth in a Ford. Winston Cup points leader Sterling Marlin was seventh in a Dodge, and Jimmy Spencer, his teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing, was eighth.
Bobby Labonte was ninth in a Pontiac, followed by Mike Wallace.
Marlin, who has retained the points lead despite engine failures in two of the previous three races, was hit with bad luck in the pits that nearly doomed his night.
Marlin was running in 23rd when he pitted on lap 58 for a tire change. But he pulled away before the jack had been removed from under the car, dragging it with him for a bit down pit road.
The jack eventually came loose and rolled down the road, coming to a stop almost under Ricky Craven's car, and NASCAR penalized the Ganassi Racing team for it. Marlin had to come back into the pits for a stop-and-go penalty and had fallen back to 37th place when he got back out onto the track.
But he had worked his way back up to 11th at the halfway point of the race and kept his points lead for the 22nd straight race. He now has a 95-point advantage over Mark Martin.
''We'll keep hammering and doing what we need to do,'' Marlin said. ''All I've heard every week is how I'm losing points. We gained 'em back tonight.''
Gordon jumped from fifth to third and is 111 points back.
''I'm not going to say we're going to run away with it, but nobody is working harder to win races and win a championship at the end of the year and we know we're not out of it,'' Gordon said.
Tony Stewart, the defending race champion, had his night ruined when he slightly tapped Jerry Nadeau under caution. Stewart, in ninth before the contact, had to pit for repairs to his oil line and went back onto the track three laps down.
He finished 24th and, after coming into the race fourth in the standings and trailing Marlin by just 84 points, left 139 back.
As usual, the race was rough and marred by 15 cautions, one short of the race record.
Because of the tight confines on the .533-mile oval, bumping and banging is common over the course of the 500-lap event. Add in the heat and humidity, and tempers are usually flaring before the halfway point.
Elliott Sadler, who scored his only career win here in the spring of 2002, blamed Joe Nemechek for ending his night. Before Sadler got into the ambulance for the mandatory trip to the care center, he pointed to his head as Nemechek went by as if to say ''What were you thinking?'' then angrily slapped the side of the ambulance.
''Joe usually does not race like that, so I am going to bite my tongue tonight,'' he said.
Hut Stricklin sarcastically applauded as Jeremy Mayfield passed him after Mayfield's contact ended Stricklin's night, Ward Burton threw his heat shields from his shoes at Earnhardt after their contact.
''I wish I had something I could have shot at him,'' Burton said.
Jimmie Johnson flipped his middle finger at Robby Gordon after Gordon hit him on a restart and sent him into the wall.
NASCAR then called Robby Gordon into the pits for a two-lap penalty for rough driving, and the Richard Childress Racing team complained the wreck was Johnson's fault because he missed a shift on the restart and Gordon couldn't help but hit him.
Even Jeff Gordon slightly lost his temper when, after he refused to let Kyle Petty pass him to get back on the lead lap twice while racing to the caution, Petty bumped him and nearly ran him up into the wall coming out of Turn 1 under yellow.
''Ask NASCAR if they just saw what Kyle did to me, is he trying to give me a flat tire?'' Jeff Gordon said in a profanity-laced tirade. ''If he works with me on the restart, I'll give him his lap back. Go tell his spotter that! He has to work with me.''
Petty's wife even made a trip down to Gordon's pit to express her displeasure over Gordon's refusal to let her husband back on the lead lap. But tempers prevailed -- after Petty had threatened over his radio to wreck Gordon -- when Gordon's spotter relayed the drivers' promise to help him.
But the gentleman's agreement nearly backfired on the next caution when Gordon slowed in an attempt to let Petty pass him but Wallace, running in second, tried to take advantage and pass Gordon himself. So Gordon had to speed up and Petty failed to pass him before the start-finish line.
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