Gordon's title hopes go down the drain at the GlenPosted: Sunday August 10, 2003 11:03 PM
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) -- Jeff Gordon said winning the pole at Watkins Glens International was half the battle. He was so right.
The four-time Winston Cup champion, hoping to make up valuable ground on points leader Matt Kenseth, broke the track record in qualifying, then watched as his chances of another title more or less vanished in a cloud of gas fumes at the close of the Sirius at The Glen.
Gordon's roller-coaster of a Sunday drive began on the first turn. By the time the dust had cleared, he had been spun out by rookie Greg Biffle and was at the back of the 43-car field.
"I don't know what happened," Gordon said. "I got a great jump. It's the first lap. There's no reason to blast the thing down in there, but he just blasted me."
Undeterred, Gordon, winner of four of the previous six Winston Cup races at The Glen, spent the rest of the 90-lap race playing catchup. He made it all the way back to third with less than 10 laps to go, then ran out of gas on the final lap and was hit from behind, first by third-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr., then by Kevin Harvick, and spun out about 200 feet from the finish line.
"I ran into the back of him and tried not to kill him," Earnhardt said. "You run out of gas, you're not going to block me all the way around the track."
The No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet ended up facing in the wrong direction and was towed away.
"Man, what a long, hot day it was after that [first lap]," said Gordon, who finished 33rd. "I didn't think we could get up to where we did. It's pretty amazing, but it doesn't mean anything now. That was one of the hardest I've ever driven a car. These last two weeks have taken a lot out of me. Last week we saw the results, today we didn't.
"We've got to figure out this fuel mileage thing. We've got to be able to make it to the end."
That might have happened if not for Harvick, who rammed Gordon hard coming out of the final turn.
"He pulled right up in the groove and I hit him twice, and the second time he spun out," said Harvick, who won the Brickyard 400 last week. "I hate that it happened."
Both Biffle, who apologized over his radio immediately after hitting Gordon, and Harvick were called into the NASCAR trailer after the race.
"They just ran all over the back of me. It's ridiculous," said Gordon, who still retained third place in the standings, a daunting 396 points behind Kenseth with 14 races left. "It stinks that I ran out of fuel and the car stopped, but all they had to do was drive right by me. But I shouldn't blame him. It's our own fault."
Even though it didn't rain as predicted, water made it a tougher day than usual for Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson and Boris Said.
Crews had to replace the engines in their cars after finding water in a cylinder in each motor, and that forced them to start at the rear of the field.
Said, one of five road-race ringers in the race, managed to make it up to 10th on the 44th lap. But on the next lap he was tapped from behind by eventual winner Robby Gordon after passing him and spun around, damaging his left front end.
Said came out 35th, incurred a flat on lap 65 and finished 39th. Johnson, steady all day, finished fourth but never challenged for the lead. Defending race champion Tony Stewart also had to change engines after crew chief Greg Zipadelli found something wrong while changing valve springs after the final practice. Stewart, who qualified fourth, finished 11th.
Kevin Harvick's first pit stop was a hot one.
After his crew changed four tires, when he revved his engine to take off, the side exhaust ignited a fuel fire. The No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevy pulled away with a fire raging in his pit and his right rear fender ablaze.
The fender fire went out by the time Harvick made it back onto the track, but heavy smoke billowed from his concrete pit stall and forced a full-course caution.
There were no injuries, but the excitement wasn't over just yet for Harvick. Almost as soon as he made it back onto the track, he accidentally hit the engine kill switch after contact with another car and lost several spots before he managed to fire it up again.
When Ryan Newman flipped in practice on Friday, he berated the rescue crews for taking so long to come to his aid. Jeff Gordon wasn't too happy with them on Sunday.
After getting spun out on the final turn by Kevin Harvick, Gordon sat in his car for a couple of minutes before anybody arrived.
"A hundred people could have gotten there before they got there," Gordon said. "I was fine, but you should have seen the drive trying to get to the hospital in the ambulance in bumper-to-bumper traffic."