Jeff Gordon and the rest of the Winston Cup drivers proved beyond question Sunday that you can definitely pass on the reconfigured Sears Point Raceway layout.
Gordon, who started from the pole, charged back from 20th place on the way to a victory in the Save Mart-Kragen 350-kilometer race on the 1.95-mile, 11-turn road course.It was Gordon's fourth victory of the season and the 33rd of his career.
Gordon, the two-time and defending Winston Cup champion, led early in the race and was locked in a battle for the top spot with Dale Jarrett until both pitted on lap 37.
A number of other drivers decided to make their first stops later, leaving Gordon 18th after his stop. Gordon didn't get back to the top until he bumped past Bobby Hamilton in the final turn - the slow hairpin - on lap 102 of the 112-lap, 218-mile event.
That turned out to be the favorite passing spot Sunday on the track shortened from 2.52-miles by cutting out the three-turn Carousel and replacing it with the faster but shorter Chute, a short straightaway and a sweeping right-hand turn.
There were predictions from many of the drivers, Gordon included, that the new course would offer little passing. But their efforts Sunday belied that.
Hamilton, who won earlier this season on the short oval at Martinsville, Va., had taken the lead on lap 85. At that point, Gordon was running 11th, but his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet cut through traffic in a hurry.
Gordon's big move came on lap 90 when Geoff Bodine and Ricky Rudd both spun out in the hairpin, starting a melee among the leaders that allowed Gordon to jump from seventh to fourth.
He passed Rick Mast for third on lap 92, grabbed second from John Andretti on lap 96 and went after Hamilton's Chevy, cutting the margin steadily.
"The strategy on a road course is to get out front and stay out front, but pit strategy is real important, too, and it seemed like everybody was doing something different today," said Gordon, whose only other road racing victory came last August at Watkins Glen, N.Y.
"I didn't know if I could catch Bobby, then I didn't know if I could pass him, then I didn't know if I could keep him behind me. It's never any fun when you've got to battle somebody that hard."
Hamilton did everything he could to regain the lead, drawing alongside Gordon at the hairpin on lap 103 and staying right on the leader's rear bumper for several laps. But Gordon, with somewhat fresher tires, finally pulled away, winning by 2.748-seconds - about 15 car-lengths.
The win, combined with an 18th-place finish for Jeremy Mayfield, vaulted Gordon from 36 points behind to 40 ahead in the season standings.
Andretti finished third, followed by Bobby Labonte, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Sterling Marlin and Mast.