Gordon Captures Third Win of Season

DARLINGTON, S. C. — Jeff Gordon, trying to win his fifth NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Championship, won his seventh race at fabled old Darlington Raceway.

Gordon took the lead with some 40 miles to go in the 500-mile event that produced 10 caution periods and a lot of dings and dents in the cars, including Gordon?s Chevy.

Gordon and others smacked the wall throughout the afternoon, which is commonplace at Darlington. Gordon also had to drive the final laps wondering whether the engine in his car was going to make it. His car began overheating in the last stages of the race.

Denny Hamlin, who has led a ton of laps this season, finished second after a poor pit stop put him well back in the field.

Gordon’s teammate, Jimmie Johnson was third.

Ryan Newman was fourth in a Dodge after running with the leaders most of the day. Carl Edwards finished fifth in a Ford.

Tony Stewart was sixth after a tire problem cost him several laps in the pits.

Rounding out the top 10 were Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer.

It was the eighth victory of the season for Rick Hendricks’ Chevrolet racing teams.

The race started with two “greens” instead of one, the traditional green flag and a non-traditional “green” track surface. Torrential rains Saturday night washed away the two days of tire rubber put down on the sandpaper-textured track known as the toughest to drive on the NASCAR circuit. Such circumstances prompted NASCAR officials to tell the teams a mandatory caution flag would be displayed at 40 laps so teams could take a look at their tire wear. Pole sitter Bowyer led briefly before Edwards moved to the front. Hamlin, winner of Friday night’s Busch race, also led early.

Johnson, Stewart, Gordon and Earnhardt moved into contention in the first 150 laps.

Bowyer faded as the pace picked up. Mears, however, stayed near the front, skittering around the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval. Newman also put his dodge into play in the first half of the race.

Brian Vickers, struggling this season in the Red Bull Toyota, spun and hit the inside wall on lap 123.

Hamlin and Edwards continued to set the pace on the restart. Stewart was next, then Johnson, Newman and Earnhardt.

Stewart moved past Edwards for second on the 162nd lap. Newman passed Stewart for second a few laps later.

By the halfway point, almost every car in the field carried the Darlington stripe, a tell-tale sign of Darlington?s traditional wear-and-tear.

Leader Hamlin seemed to be the only car on the track that had not scrubbed the wall.

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