Jeff Gordon Conquers Texas
by Austin Kilgore    Sun, Apr 5, 2009, 05:22 PM
Texas Motor Speedway and Homestead Miami Speedway are the only tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit where Jeff Gordon has never won a race.

Texas was also the only track where Gordon had ever finished dead last, a displeasure he’s experienced twice, including at last year’s edition of the Samsung 500.

So on a day when rock band Foreigner performed its famous song “Feels Like the First Time” for fans before the race, it seemed only fitting that Gordon, starting from second position, took the lead on the first lap, stayed up front the whole race, and broke a 47-race losing streak by winning the Samsung 500, his first Texas win in 17 starts.

“It feels like the first time I’ve ever won, period,” Gordon said.

Gordon said since going winless in 2008, crew chief Steve Letarte went to work restructuring the No. 24 team to make it competitive again. Gordon said the changes motivated him to redouble his efforts to improve his performance. The season has started well, with Gordon leading the series points standings.

“All that was missing was that victory, and I can’t believe it happened at Texas,” Gordon said. “This is the best place we possibly could have won because it’s eluded us for so long.”

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Photo courtesy NASCAR

Jeff Gordon celebrates his first career win in 17 starts at Texas Motor Speedway following the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung 500.

Gordon had many challengers in the race, but none could keep the lead away from him. Carl Edwards, who swept both of last year’s races, even passed Gordon for the lead with less than 40 laps to go.

Gordon said the dirty air created by the near-lapped cars in front of him made his car difficult to drive.

“I couldn’t go anywhere,” Gordon said. “Just those five to six laps running behind them just killed the buildup of the tires and [Edwards] was able to run me down.”

But a horrible pit stop by the No. 99 team put Edwards at the back of the field for the final restart. Gordon, on the other hand, won the race off pit road, and on the restart, led a three-wide pack through the 1.5-mile track, easily breaking away from the field.

“We got clean air right from the start and we were able to just set sail,” Gordon said. “You never know how the results would have changed had Carl not had his problems.”

Teammate Jimmie Johnson would also eventually break away from the pack, but after battling eventually third and fourth place finishers Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart, could not track down Gordon’s No. 24.

If he had caught up to Gordon, Johnson said he had no qualms about passing his friend and teammate.

“As a friend, I would have felt bad, [but] as a competitor, I would have been excited,” Johnson said. “The best thing I can try to do, just from the competitor’s standpoint, would be to try to break any momentum that anyone’s putting together, and the 24’s leading the points now.”

Roush Fenway Racing teammates Biffle, Edwards and Matt Kenseth all had lug nuts issues ranging from them not being installed correctly to them even falling off the wheel, slowing their pit stops. Biffle said the teams need to prepare better.

“It’s not bad luck. When you leave a wheel loose or you stop on the air hose or do something else, that’s not bad luck,” He said. “If you get a flat tire, that’s bad luck. When you have problems…something wasn’t done normally or something wasn’t done right.”

The victory comes as some redemption for crew chief Letarte. He said last year’s season starting going downhill at Texas, and taught the No. 24 team a very important lesson.

“[Last year] We came here maybe too confident as a team, and I think coming here and struggling like we did in the race let us all remember how finicky this sport is and how you can go to sleep at night on top of the world, and wake up in the morning on the bottom.”

In NASCAR, it seems once a team gets that pivotal first win of the year, it can really take off a knock out a series of victories. The No. 24 team will have momentum on its side as when the Sprint Cup Series goes to Phoenix after the Easter off weekend.

“If we can win at Texas, I feel like we can win anywhere,” Gordon said.

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