Gordon nabs first victory this year

Monday, April 14, 2003

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Jeff Gordon nudged Bobby Labonte aside on the 487th lap Sunday, ending a long stretch of nose-to-tail frustration to win the Virginia 500.

Gordon had been dueling Labonte since they broke free on a restart with 48 laps to go, but Labonte blocked his efforts to pass on both the inside and outside before Gordon finally moved him out of the way.

The bump occurred as they entered the first turn, drawing a mixture of roars and boos from the crowd of 86,000. The race finished under caution, and Gordon earned his 62nd career Winston Cup victory and first this year.

"Bobby and I were having a lot of fun there at the end, bumping and rubbing," Gordon said. "He was doing everything he could. I didn't want to knock him out of the way too hard, but I did push him around a little."

After a caution ended with eight laps to go, Gordon easily pulled away from the field, proving he had the strongest car. The final caution came on the 499th lap.

Labonte, who won this race last year, held on for second; a two-tire stop that gave him the lead with 63 laps to go paid off.

"We held Jeff off as long as we could," Labonte said. "That was hard racing. That was good clean fun. ... All that racing was good."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 195 laps and finished third, giving Chevrolet the top three spots in the field. Jeff Burton and Elliott Sadler were fourth and fifth, both in Fords, and series champion Tony Stewart was sixth in his Chevy.

Exciting as it was, the ending was a disappointment to many in the crowd, who loudly cheered Earnhardt's dominance over the first 400 laps. But his chances at victory ended with 55 laps to go.

Earnhardt was second to Labonte after pit stops, but he banged into the rear of the lapped car of Ricky Craven in Turns 1 and 2. Earnhardt's car got held up by Craven's Ford, and three contenders passed him by.

"That was good racing right there, Earnhardt said. "We had a shot at it, but the 32 car had a flat tire and ran us up the race track, but there wasn't anything we could do about it. It's going to help us a lot in the points and give us something to talk about in the weekend off coming up."

Earnhardt's finish allowed him to trim 78 points off Matt Kenseth's lead in the standings. He's now 51 back, and Gordon is third, 88 off the lead.

Kenseth, who was lapped by Gordon on the 61st lap, finished 22nd.

Rounding out the top 10, Sterling Marlin finished seventh, followed by Rusty Wallace, Jimmie Johnson and Ken Schrader.

Toyota Grand Prix

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Paul Tracy took advantage of Michel Jourdain Jr.'s misfortune to win the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, his third victory in as many races this season.

Jourdain looked like he was on the way to his first win until his final pit stop, 18 laps from the end of the 90-lap race.

His Team Rahal crew put on four tires and added enough fuel to get Jourdain to the end, but his Ford Cosworth-powered Lola wouldn't go into first gear as he tried to get out of the pits.

Tracy made his final stop a lap earlier, and his Team Player's crew finished in a near-perfect 7.2 seconds. He managed to get back onto the 1.968-mile, 11-turn downtown street course just ahead of Adrian Fernandez.

After Jourdain failed to get back on track, Tracy steadily pulled away, crossing the finish line 4.544-seconds ahead of Fernandez -- about 30 car lengths.

Japan 300

MOTEGI, Japan -- American Scott Sharp won the crash-filled Indy Japan 300, and moved into a tie for the lead in career victories in the IndyCar series.

Sharp finished under the yellow flag for his eighth career IRL victory, matching Sam Hornish Jr. and Buddy Lazier for wins in the series.

Sweden's Kenny Brack was second.

-- From wire reports

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