FONTANA, CA -- It wasn't long after the drivers took to the track for the first practice session for the inaugural running of the California 500 that the comparisons to its sister track, Michigan stopped. The drivers said that it didn't drive like Michigan. But as the laps clicked off it was apparent that it would race like Michigan and the guy with the lightest foot and best fuel mileage would win the race. This combination makes one look to a Chevrolet as it is a bit stingier with a gallon of gas than its Ford counterpart. And it was the season long dominant Chevy that got the win; Jeff Gordon in the #24 DuPont Monte Carlo.
Gordon, talking about his seventh victory of the year said, "It was a great battle all day. I learned how to conserve fuel today and it's pretty interesting."
Gordon, who mixed and matched pit strategies the entire race, as all the teams had to, opted for a 2-tire stop on lap 195 while most of the front running Fords had to stop on or about lap 192. Mr. Smooth, Terry Labonte, was able to stretch things out to lap 197. From there the game of patience and a smooth application of the throttle was going to be the key to making it to the end without needing to stop for fuel. As the race raged on, the calculators indicated that the only hope the fast Fords of Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett, running second and fourth at the time, had was a late- race caution -- a caution that would never come. With only 12 laps to go, the Fords of Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett stopped for a topping off of Unocal racing fuel. Then Martin dropped out of his second place running position and brought the Valvoline Ford in with 10 laps remaining in the race. This left Gordon in the top spot with plenty of room back to Terry Labonte. Gordon just squeezed the throttle enough to stay in the lead as the gap between first and second place went from close to six seconds to just over a second when the checkers fell.
"It ran out of fuel coming out of turn four," said an elated Jeff Gordon. "The crew did an awesome job calculating the fuel mileage. And they did great pit stops all day. I want to thank Chevrolet. This Chevrolet was awesome today and it's great to put it in victory lane."
Gordon commenting on the last few laps said, "I was running part throttle down the straight aways. I could tell Terry was conserving a little bit, too. So when he'd back off, I backed off. I just kept looking in my mirror to make sure I stayed in front of him."
Terry Labonte could only hope that Gordon wouldn't make it on what had to be a close to empty tank. Labonte commenting on his run said, "We thought Jeff might run out of fuel at the end there. We kinda kept the pressure on but we didn't have much fuel to work with either. It was a good run for us. We just couldn't catch him there at the end."
The driver that came in third was Ricky Rudd. Rudd, who struggled with a poor choice of cars for the track configuration, had to take a provisional to make the race and started back in the 39th position. Rudd, combining a combination of no-tire-fuel-only stops with four-tire-and-fuel stops, found his way to the top ten in the late stages of the race. The headstrong Virginia native decided that no matter what, he was going to stay out and see what fate had in store for him. "I'll tell you, these guys didn't give up on this Tide Ford," said Rudd. "They worked their butts off and changed a lot of things. They didn't give up. I never gave up. The pit strategy worked out real well for us. I had to stretch the fuel mileage there at the end. We had a 5th place car and ended up third. We'll take it. We really didn't think we could make it."
The drivers that rounded out the top-five were Ted Musgrave, for his second consecutive top-five finish and Mr. Excitement Jimmy Spencer.
Mark Martin, who looked to be the only one stout enough to tangle with Gordon, actually held the lead on laps 234 to 239 before he slowed to come to the pits for fuel. As luck would have it, the Roush team didn't get enough fuel in and Martin still ran out of gas before taking the checkers and finished tenth, one lap short of the 250 laps that made up the California 500. This was Martin's first finish out of the top-five for five races.
The positions of the top-five in the Winston Cup points battle didn't change but the lead that Gordon built up over his closest competitor, Mark Martin, increased from 46 to 92. Terry Labonte remains in third with Jarrett and Jeff Burton making up the remaining top five.
The race took 3 hours 13 minutes 31 seconds to complete and held an average speed of 155.025 miles per hour. There were 21 lead changes among 12 drivers. The caution flag was seldom seen and only flew 4 times for a total of 22 laps. Gordon's margin of victory over Labonte was 1.074 seconds.
The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the Pepsi 400 to be run at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway on July 5th.
Gordon, speaking about the newest track added to the Winston Cup circuit said, "I want to thank Penske and their whole operation for this incredible California Speedway. They need to be commended. It was an awesome race and it is a great track to drive on. I think everybody really enjoyed the whole week." And based on the comments of the other drivers, Penske has hit a homerun on the former site of Kaiser Steel Mill.
Provisional results for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, California 500 Presented by NAPA: Ps.Ql.No. Driver Sponsor Make Laps Notes -- -- ---- ----------------------------------------------------- ----- ------- 1 3 24 Jeff Gordon DuPont Automotive Finish Chev 250 $144600 2 10 5 Terry Labonte Kellogg's Corn Flakes Chev 250 Running 3 39 10 Ricky Rudd Tide Ford 250 Running 4 20 16 Ted Musgrave Family Channel/Primestar Ford 250 Running 5 19 23 Jimmy Spencer Camel Cigarettes Ford 250 Running 6 15 18 Bobby Labonte Interstate Batteries Pont 250 Running 7 7 29 Jeff Green Cartoon Network Chev 250 Running 8 9 88 Dale Jarrett Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford 250 Running 9 11 25 Ricky Craven Budweiser Chev 250 Running 10 12 6 Mark Martin Valvoline Ford 249 No Gas 11 18 21 Michael Waltrip Citgo Ford 249 Running 12 21 37 Jeremy Mayfield KMart/RC Cola Ford 249 Running 13 13 30 Johnny Benson Pennzoil Pont 249 Running 14 16 2 Rusty Wallace Miller Lite Ford 249 Running 15 8 17 Darrell Waltrip Western Auto Chev 249 Running 16 14 3 Dale Earnhardt GM Goodwrench Serv Plus Chev 249 Running 17 41 41 Steve Grissom Kodiak Chev 249 Running 18 1 42 Joe Nemechek Bell South Chev 248 Running 19 24 97 Chad Little John Deere Pont 248 Running 20 22 9 Lake Speed Melling Racing Ford 248 Running 21 35 98 John Andretti RCA Ford 248 Running 22 42 90 Dick Trickle Heilig-Meyers/Simmons Ford 248 Running 23 30 43 Bobby Hamilton STP Pont 247 Running 24 31 77 Morgan Shepherd Jasper Engines Ford 247 Running 25 34 96 * David Green Caterpillar Chev 247 Running 26 36 11 Brett Bodine Close Call Ford 247 Running 27 26 40 Greg Sacks Coors Light Chev 246 Running 28 40 22 Ward Burton MBNA America Pont 246 Running 29 23 36 Derrike Cope Skittles Pont 245 Running 30 25 99 Jeff Burton Exide Batteries Ford 244 Running 31 38 44 Kyle Petty Hot Wheels Pont 243 Running 32 17 94 Bill Elliott McDonald's Ford 241 No Gas 33 28 31 * Mike Skinner Lowe's Chev 225 Running 34 5 33 Ken Schrader Skoal Chev 219 Engine 35 6 7 Geoff Bodine QVC Ford 215 Engine 36 29 4 Sterling Marlin Kodak Gold Film Chev 206 Engine 37 2 28 Ernie Irvan Texaco Havoline Ford 202 Engine 38 33 1 Jerry Nadeau R & L Carriers Pont 174 Running 39 4 46 Wally Dallenbach, Jr. First Union Chev 173 Electrc 40 32 71 Dave Marcis RealTree Chev 146 Engine 41 37 75 Rick Mast Remington Arms Ford 94 Engine 42 27 8 Hut Stricklin Circuit City Ford 28 Wreck * Rookie of the Year Contender Time of Race : 3 hours, 13 minutes, 31 seconds Average Speed : 155.025 mph Margin of Victory : 1.074 seconds Lap Leaders : 21 lead changes among 12 drivers Nemechek (1), Dallenbach (2-7), JGordon (8-31), BBodine (32), Schrader (33-40), JGordon (41-70), Martin (71-72), JGordon (73-77), Martin (78-80), Spencer (81), Craven (82-84), JGordon (85-96), Jarrett (97-141), Craven (142-146), Irvan (147-152), Jarrett (153-156), TLabonte (157-197), Spencer (198-200), DWaltrip (201-202), JGordon (203-233), Martin (234-239), JGordon (240-250) Cautions : 4 cautions for 22 laps Track Length : 0.5330 Miles
NASCAR News Headlines: