Elliott claims first win in seven years

Monday, November 12, 2001

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- After seven years and 226 races without a victory, Bill Elliott wasn't even sure how to celebrate.

After taking the checkered flag in the Pennzoil 400 Sunday, he did a tentative burnout in front of the main grandstand at Homestead-Miami Speedway, then did a couple of rubber-burning doughnuts before driving slowly to Victory Lane, relishing the moment.

On a day when Jeff Gordon all but wrapped up his fourth Winston Cup championship, Elliott gave Ray Evernham and crew chief Mike Ford their first wins.

Elliott, whose last victory came at Darlington in September 1994, passed teammate Casey Atwood five laps from the end of the 267-lap race after stalking the rookie for several trips around the 1 1/2-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"I was just staying with him and then I got under him and he got real loose in (turns) three and four and that's all it took," said Elliott, a winner for the 41st time in his career.

"Ray believed in me and Mike and all the guys believed in me," the winner added. "With 20 laps to go, Mike said, 'You can do it.' I just dug down a little deeper and here we are."

The victory was just as sweet for Evernham, who was the top crew chief in the sport before leaving Hendrick Motorsports late in 1999 for the difficult task of starting up his own team and guiding Dodge's return to NASCAR's top division after a 16-year absence.

An accident in the pits left four people injured, including a crewman for Ricky Rudd's team who was hospitalized in serious condition with head injuries after striking a concrete wall.

Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip, driving one of his best races of the season, came on to pass Atwood for second on the last lap, but crossed the finish line 1.42-seconds -- about eight car-lengths -- behind Elliott's bright red No. 9 Dodge.

Gordon ran into some bad luck that left him 28th.

Rudd did shave 21 points off Gordon's formidable lead, cutting it to 305. But all Gordon has to do now to take the title is start the last two races. He can also clinch by finishing 32nd or better next Sunday in Atlanta, no matter what Rudd does.

Gordon, who had run among the top 10 most of the day, lost a lap when he had to make an unscheduled pit stop on lap 210, several laps after being bumped from behind by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and banging off the car driven by Jeff Green.

"Clinching it early is not my goal," Gordon said. "My goal is to win the championship and win races. I'm just disappointed that we had such a good car and such a good run going and we lost that valuable track position."

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