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Jeff Gordon Wins His 7th

by Mike Snow

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


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California 500
NASCAR Winston Cup Series - California 500
Sunday, June 22th at 2:00pm ET
[RealAudio]
Jeff Gordon In-Car Radio Transmission
 

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