Formula One
 Wednesday, April 19
Gordon exorcises the past with win at Talladega
By Phil Furr
Special to

 TALLADEGA, Ala. -- With persistence and faith taking the place of candles and seances, Jeff Gordon exorcised his haunting with a win at Talladega Superspeedway.

While Gordon was confirming that he's still that Jeff Gordon, the "Ghost of Crew Chief Past" was lifted from beneath the hood of the No. 24 Monte Carlo at Talladega and cast into the memoir of the youngest 50-time winner in Winston Cup history.

In a season that has been defined by parity and non-repetitious winners, Gordon paved the way for his new crew chief, et al -- Robbie Loomis and the Rainbow Warriors, the Sequel -- to join in on a record-setting list of 2000's winners.

Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon was once again No. 1 on Sunday, as he celebrates his DieHard 500 win with wife Brooke in Victory Lane.

"I'm most proud about is these guys never lost faith in themselves that they could win and get the car that was capable of winning and put the whole package together like it came together today," said Gordon, who became the ninth different winner in nine Cup races this season. "It was very emotional. I was very excited."

A team that was built on the motto, "Refuse to Lose," had been "Reduced to Snooze" since winning at Lowe's Motor Speedway last October in the second race without former crew chief Ray Evernham. Gordon and his team have been a symbol for humility in the garage this season: a once dominant franchise forced to rebuild and learn to conquer asphalt all over again.

After winning the pole at Darlington earlier this year, Gordon was asked if the past few months had been a humbling experience. He simply said, "You don't know how fortunate you are to win one of these races until you're struggling to win again."

That's why the picture in Talladega's Victory Lane told the whole story of a season saved. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

"If you heard me on the radio, I was screaming and yelling," Gordon said of the emotional final laps of the DieHard 500. "I couldn't say enough because they gave me what I needed and we went out there -- all aspects of the team, in the pits, the spotter did a great job, the car was great. Robbie made some good calls in the pits. It was just a perfect day."

Though Gordon humbly gave credit to his crew for the team's first win in the past 13 races, the move to win this one was purely driver. Gordon, charging from a 35th starting spot, split the gap caused by Jeremy Mayfield and Mark Martin and stormed into the lead on the treacherous high-banks in the Alabama hills.

The move wasn't as bold as the one Gordon put on Rusty Wallace to win the 1999 Daytona 500, but on this day when passing looked improbable without drafting aid, Gordon single-handedly muscled his way back into the Winner's Circle.

Gordon said, "the car came to life in the draft." But, it was the driver, inspired by the first serious losing streak of his short career, that stepped up to the plate and delivered with runners on.

"It's been an interesting year for us," said Gordon. "I never lost faith in this team. I'm proud of them, that they were able to overcome a lot of criticism and keep their heads up and work hard and do what it takes to win. That's a lot of hard work and dedication."

Loomis isn't a stranger to winning. He set up the cars at Petty Enterprises which once carried Bobby Hamilton and John Andretti to Victory Lane, and now, he's part of the winning tradition at Hendrick Motorsports.

"We certainly haven't been as strong as we hoped to be, but I think a lot of it is how competitive this sport is right now, and we missed a few things with the Monte Carlo," said Gordon. "We went through some changes, but like I said, we never lost faith. We just kept getting to know Robbie better, and he kept getting to know me better. This whole team, I could just see them gel a little bit better each week."

Marathon Man
Michael Waltrip, driver of the No. 7 Monte Carlo, completed Monday's Boston Marathon in a time of 4 hours, 42 minutes, and 20 seconds. Waltrip, who started 11th and finished 31st at Talladega, wore starting number 17,398 in Boston. There were 17,813 entrants.

On a local radio broadcast in Charlotte earlier in the day, No. 31 crew chief Larry McReynolds had quipped that Waltrip's height gave him an advantage over the favored Kenyans. "Because of his long legs, Michael takes one stride to the Kenyans' five," he said of the 36-year-old Waltrip. "There should be a template for legs in the Marathon."

Nemechek nabbed
Joe Nemechek snapped a one-race winning streak by the Busch Series regulars with his win in the Touchstone Energy 300 at Talladega. However, victory didn't come without a price. Nemechek's crew chief, Brian Pattie, was slapped with a $20,000 fine after the post-race inspection turned-up discrepancies in the quarter panel height on Nemechek's No. 87 Chevrolet.

Pattie was penalized under Section 12-4-A in the NASCAR Busch Series Rule Book: "...actions deemed by NASCAR Officials as detrimental to stock car racing..." and Rule 12.8.1-D: "...the quarter panel height(s) did not meet minimum specifications..."

This isn't the first time this season that Nemechek's had a run in with NASCAR's inspection crew. After winning the pole in the same car at Daytona earlier this year, Nemechek's time was disallowed for an illegal weight-distribution to one of the four tires.

Lajoie la woozy
Randy Lajoie was treated and released from Carraway Methodist Hospital in Birmingham, Ala., following a lap 60 crash in the Busch Series Touchstone Energy 300 at Talladega Superspeedway.

"The only thing I remember is coming back up the track in front of the field," said Lajoie, who was diagnosed with a mild concussion and sent back to his Kannapolis, N.C., home to recover. "I saw Dick Trickle coming at me, and I knew it was going to hurt. The next thing I knew, I was in the infield care center."

A week earlier, Lajoie had become the first Busch Series regular competitor to win a Busch Series race in 2000, taking the BellSouth Mobility 320 at Nashville Speedway USA.

Phil Furr, a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C., writes a weekly auto-racing column for

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