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Gordon wins for fifth time at Sonoma track

Monday, June 26, 2006

SONOMA, Calif. -- Jeff Gordon combined patience with a fast race car Sunday at Infineon Raceway to grab a record ninth road course victory.

NASCAR's top "Road Warrior" started 11th in the 43-car field and took the lead for the first time on lap 49 of the 110-lap Dodge/Save Mart 350.

Two-time series champion Terry Labonte grabbed the lead for a while with a slick fuel strategy, but Gordon was able to hunt NASCAR's "Iceman" down, regain the lead on lap 88 and eventually pull away for his fifth victory on the picturesque 1.99-mile, 11-turn circuit.

It was a big weekend for Gordon, who acknowledged that he told family and friends Saturday night he is engaged to his longtime girlfriend Ingrid Vandebosch

"This has been just an awesome weekend," said Gordon, who led a race-high 44 laps.

Gordon's first win of the year and the 74th of his career came in the 16th race of the season, boosting the four-time series champion back into the top 10 -- a key move for his chances of making the Chase for the Nextel Cup championship. It's only the third time since Gordon began racing full-time in NASCAR's top series in 1993 that he has gone this deep into the season before winning.

Labonte, driving this week for the first-year Hall of Fame Racing team co-owned by former NFL quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, pitted for the final time on lap 60 and found himself in the lead on lap 71 after all the other leaders made their final stops.

Gordon was about 12 seconds behind Labonte after his pit stop on lap 70. With Labonte conserving fuel as much as possible in an effort to make it to the end, Gordon steadily cut into the margin, finally passing Labonte with a strong inside move on the hairpin 11th-turn.

Three late caution flags helped Labonte save fuel and kept the field bunched up. After a six-car crash on lap 105 brought out the second red flag of the race to allow for a cleanup -- this one for 13 minutes -- Labonte and the rest of the contenders got one last shot at Gordon.

But the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was just too strong. Gordon took the green flag for the start of lap 108 and pulled away. Ryan Newman finally got past Labonte for second place on lap 109, finishing 1.25 seconds -- about 8 car-lengths -- behind the winner.

Greg Biffle finished fourth, followed by pole-winner Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Jeff Burton.

"We should have been second but I didn't get my tires good and clean after that last red flag," said Labonte, who earned his nickname with a cool, quiet demeanor that paid off again on Sunday. "I didn't want to use too much gas. It took me a couple of laps to get going and the 12 car (Newman) got me."

Labonte, who plans to retire from the cockpit at the end of this season, ran only nine races last year and has run 10 of 16 this year. This was the first top five finish for the 49-year-old Labonte since winning the second race at Darlington in 2003.

The victory by Gordon broke a string of three straight road race victories for Tony Stewart, who had another unlucky day. The defending race champion and reigning Nextel Cup champion, who was knocked out of last week's race at Michigan, overcame a drive-through penalty for speeding on pit road Sunday and appeared strong enough to contend for another win until he lost a cylinder late in the race. He wound up 28th.

Series leader Jimmie Johnson, Gordon's teammate, survived a spin to finish 10th and increased his lead over Matt Kenseth -- 17th on Sunday -- from 74 to 101 points. Gordon jumped from 11th to eighth in the standings, while Stewart fell from sixth to seventh, 26 points ahead of Gordon heading into next Saturday's race at Daytona.


Dodge/Save Mart 350

Sunday; At Infineon Raceway, Sonoma, Calif.; Lap length: 1.99 miles

(Start position in parentheses)

1. (11) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 110, $325,661.

2. (4) Ryan Newman, Dodge, 110, $219,758.

3. (37) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet, 110, $155,825.

4. (7) Greg Biffle, Ford, 110, $147,300.

5. (1) Kurt Busch, Dodge, 110, $145,433.

6. (20) Carl Edwards, Ford, 110, $116,800.

7. (13) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 110, $122,120.

8. (24) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 110, $118,583.

9. (5) Boris Said, Ford, 110, $83,825.

10. (16) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 110, $144,186.

11. (19) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 110, $97,575.

12. (40) Denny Hamlin, Chevrolet, 110, $85,075.

13. (8) Mark Martin, Ford, 110, $96,725.

14. (42) Brian Vickers, Chevrolet, 110, $89,025.

15. (39) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 110, $108,283.

16. (28) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 110, $87,875.

17. (9) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 110, $120,791.

18. (2) Jamie McMurray, Ford, 110, $121,825.

19. (23) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, 110, $102,833.

20. (34) Casey Mears, Dodge, 110, $113,708.

21. (33) Kyle Petty, Dodge, 110, $98,258.

22. (32) Jeremy Mayfield, Dodge, 110, $105,441.

23. (35) Michael Waltrip, Dodge, 110, $87,433.

24. (3) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 110, $111,611.

25. (10) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet, 110, $100,295.

26. (26) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 110, $107,916.

27. (25) Scott Riggs, Dodge, 110, $72,300.

28. (12) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 110, $122,561.

29. (41) Reed Sorenson, Dodge, 110, $79,500.

30. (27) Scott Pruett, Dodge, 110, $89,422.

31. (6) Kasey Kahne, Dodge, 110, $110,914.

32. (31) David Gilliland, Dodge, 108, $68,050.

33. (38) J.J. Yeley, Chevrolet, 104, accident, $105,965.

34. (22) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 104, accident, $99,905.

35. (21) Bobby Labonte, Dodge, 104, accident, $104,656.

36. (15) P.J. Jones, Chevrolet, 101, rear end, $67,610.

37. (17) Ron Fellows, Chevrolet, 100, $67,475.

38. (43) Brandon Ash, Dodge, 85, $67,360.

39. (36) Dave Blaney, Dodge, 79, drive shaft, $67,250.

40. (14) Robby Gordon, Chevrolet, 74, accident, $67,125.

41. (18) Ken Schrader, Ford, 0, accident, $94,214.

42. (29) Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet, 0, accident, $66,900.

43. (30) Tom Hubert, Ford, 0, accident, $67,116.

Race Statistics

Time of Race: 2 hours, 57 minutes, 36 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 1.250 seconds.

Winner's Average Speed: 73.953 mph.

Caution Flags: Seven for 12 laps.

Lead Changes: 9 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders: Kurt Busch 1-29; T.Stewart 30; B.Said 31; J.Johnson 32; K.Harvick 33-37; R.Newman 38-48; J.Gordon 49-69; J.Johnson 70; T.Labonte 71-87; J.Gordon 88-110.

Point Standings: 1. J.Johnson, 2,434. 2. M.Kenseth, 2,333. 3. K.Kahne, 2,121. 4. M.Martin, 2,113. 5. D.Earnhardt Jr., 2,105. 6. J.Burton, 2,034. 7. T.Stewart, 2,012. 8. J.Gordon, 1,986. 9. G.Biffle, 1,967. 10. K.Harvick, 1,945.


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