May 13, 2007
DARLINGTON, S.C. (cbssportsline.com/AP) -- Another week, another Hendrick Motorsports victory.
And as Jeff Gordon celebrated in Victory Lane, Denny Hamlin was certain he should have been there instead.
Gordon overcame a leaky radiator and used a gutsy late call to race to his third victory of the season Sunday at Darlington Raceway. Hendrick has won four consecutive races, eight of nine overall, and remained perfect in all five events the Car of Tomorrow has been used.
"I can't believe that thing lasted," Gordon said of his motor, which had thick steam streaming out of it for the last hour of the race.
"There's no way that thing should have ever made it."
When it did -- even though Gordon gambled and didn't make a final pit stop when most of the field did with 23 laps to go -- Gordon won for the third time in four races and maintained a 231-point lead over Jimmie Johnson in the Nextel Cup standings.
"That's the way you win races right there," said Gordon, a seven-time Darlington winner. "What an amazing year we're having."
Rain washed out the race Saturday night and it was rescheduled for Sunday, making it the first NASCAR race run on Mother's Day since 1986. So the victory was the perfect gift for Gordon's pregnant bride.
Gordon and wife Ingrid Vandebosch are expecting their first child at the end of June and this was the last race doctors have permitted her to travel to before the birth.
Hamlin, who led a race-high 179 laps, had to settle for second after loose lug nuts on a late pit stop cost him a shot at running for the win. Hamlin has finished second or third in four COT races, while leading a series-high 563 laps in the five races the car has been used.
"We've got to win a race sooner or later," Hamlin said. "Everybody will be talking about how Hendrick won another race, but this was our race to win."
Johnson, last week's winner, finished third for Hendrick. Ryan Newman was fourth, followed by Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. capped a frenzied week that began when he said he's leaving DEI at the end of the season by finishing eighth.
But Earnhardt said strong support from his crew kept everyone focused.
"My guys said, 'We're behind you,' and that took it all away," he said. "We focused on the car, we drove the car and we had a good time this weekend. I had no pressure, nothing, really on my mind other than what we were supposed to be doing.
"I was surprised. I thought it would be a little more of a distraction."
Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton, teammates at Richard Childress Racing, rounded out the top 10.
Gordon's radiator was on the verge of busting for the latter part of the race, with thick steam blowing from under the hood as he ran second to Johnson.
But a caution with 23 laps to go changed the race, with Johnson ducking onto pit road while Gordon gambled to stay out. Gordon took over the lead, Johnson restarted in seventh, and no one came close to challenging Gordon again.
Johnson thought he would quickly work his way back to the front on new tires, but had no regrets after traffic prevented the defending champion from scoring his fifth win of the season.
"New tires always pay off here," Johnson said. "If I was back in that position, I think I would go for tires again."
Gordon never felt confident that his engine would go the distance. He turned in terrific jumps on every restart, needing the air to cool down his motor.
The Associated Press News Service