Dale Earnhardt Jr. (8) passes Jeff Gordan for the lead during the final laps of the NASCAR Checker Auto Parts 500 Sunday, Nov. 7, 2004 at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. Earnhardt went on to win and has now won two years in a row. Gordan finished third.
AP Photo/Matt York
AVONDALE, Ariz. Dale Earnhardt Jr. pulled away from Jeff Gordon in a pair of overtime laps to win the NASCAR Nextel Cup race Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway and tighten the championship chase with two races to go.
Kurt Busch overcame a couple of mistakes to finish 10th and held on to the series lead. But the top four drivers are separated by just 48 points heading into next Sunday's event at Darlington with Busch leading Gordon by 41.
The victory came a week after Earnhardt lost ground in the title chase by crashing through his own carelessness late in the race at Atlanta Motorspeedway. This time, he was steady when it mattered most.
Earnhardt, who had a dominant car through most of the Checker Auto Parts 500, was in third place, trailing Gordon and Casey Mears when a caution came out on lap 282 of the race scheduled to go 312. Junior argued with crew chief Tony Eury over the radio, lobbying to pit for tires, but Eury made him stay on the track and maintain his position.
Eury, known as Tony Sr., said he insisted Earnhardt stay out because it was so hard to get past lapped cars on the 1-mile oval and ''it was just better to keep track position.''
Earnhardt was a bit sheepish when asked about the argument.
''Yeah, I was just getting worried man,'' he said, grinning. ''I cannot control myself inside a race car. I want tires, this that and the other. I didn't want to lose.
''I told Tony Sr., 'The car's covering the field the best we ever did.' We've had good race cars and won races but nobody could run with this car today and I didn't want to lose this race.''
Junior had a top-five finish all but wrapped up in Atlanta the previous Sunday when he collided with rookie Carl Edwards and wound up 33rd there to fall to fifth 98 points out in the 10-race championship chase.
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