Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gamble Guides Gordon; Tire Strategy Helps Four-Time Champ Break Slump; Stewart Takes over Lead in Chase

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gamble Guides Gordon; Tire Strategy Helps Four-Time Champ Break Slump; Stewart Takes over Lead in Chase

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- The Chase for the Nextel Cup may have left Jeff Gordon behind, but it didn't slow him down.

While he's not part of NASCAR's playoff picture, he remained in the sport's mind-set Sunday, leading 151 of the final 157 laps to win the Subway 500.

Chase contenders Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson were bumping fenders for second place late in the race while Gordon was pulling away to his first top-five finish in the last 22 races.

"We're looking for improvement to get excited about next year," Gordon said after winning $184,926. "I love being competitive; I love being up front. Not being in the Chase is disappointing, but I'm looking at next year.

"Anything to get a spark, to get excited, to get something going. It was important to get something going. I wish there were a lot more short tracks on the schedule. We could come here every weekend -- that would be all right with me."

Gordon started 15th, but shot into the lead when rookie crew chief Steve Letarte decided to skip a pit stop with 157 laps to go. That shuffled Gordon to the lead, and once he got there, he had little trouble keeping it.

"I drove the car for 300-something laps and I never got the lead," Gordon said. "[Letarte] made the call to stay out and I had the lead the rest of the day. That call won the race for us. I've been telling people he's got talent; maybe he showed that today."

Not being in the Chase helped Letarte take a chance on track position. He traded new tires for a spot up front, but it was a gamble worth taking since his driver had nothing to lose.

"We were in position in the points to be aggressive," Letarte said.

Stewart led a race-best 283 laps, but once he stopped with most of the other lead-lap cars for tires with 157 laps remaining, he got past Gordon.

"I wanted to win the race after leading that many laps," Stewart said. "That's the way it was in the spring. Jeff was really strong in the spring. He was really good late in the day. I don't know why. …

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