Gordon shows rare emotion after victory

Thursday, June 29, 2006

It's true Jeff Gordon hasn't won races in bunches lately, but it still was a little surprising to see the four-time NASCAR champion get so emotional after his latest win Sunday on the road course in Sonoma, Calif.

Gordon said he became choked up while driving toward Victory Lane after stopping to pick up the checkered flag.

This wasn't just another victory, though. There were a lot of dynamics at play.

Gordon, divorced very publicly and expensively in 2003, finally told family and friends Saturday night about his month-old secret engagement to Ingrid Vandebosch, the Belgian model and actress he has been dating for nearly two years.

Then there was the fact that Infineon Raceway is just 20 miles or so from Vallejo, the California town in which Gordon spent his early years, and the Sonoma track is where he hears the fewest boos and where he is surrounded by loved ones and pals.

Finally, Gordon had not been to Victory Lane since winning last October on the short track at Martinsville, Va. He had gone as far as the 16th race of a season without a victory in NASCAR's top stock car series only twice before -- his winless rookie year of 1993 and in 2002.

For those who thought that nearly $100 million in earnings, 73 previous wins in NASCAR's top series and the multiple championships might have dulled his desire for victory, think again.

Gordon acknowledged this latest winless string bothered him enough that he tried to avoid references to it.

"Well, one way I cope with it is I try not to read the paper or go to NASCAR.com or any other Web site that might show, 'Gordon had trouble again,' 'Gordon doesn't win again,' 'When is it going to happen?' I just stayed away from all that stuff as much as I could.

"Winning is what drives me," he added. "There's not enough money in the world that you can give to buy that feeling."

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