Jeff Gordon needed a little magic for his drive into the record book Sunday. He got it from his pit crew.
Gordon became the seventh driver in modern NASCAR history to win four straight races, coming from far back to take the Pepsi 400. It was his first victory at Michigan Speedway."This is just unbelievable to win four in a row and win our first here at Michigan," Gordon said.
Gordon took the lead for the only time with eight laps to go, following a pit stop during which crew chief Ray Evernham ordered two right-side tires for the Chevrolet. He then pulled away, crossing the finish line 1.8 seconds ahead of Bobby Labonte's Pontiac.
"This team did an unbelievable job," Gordon said. "When Ray called those two tires there at the end I was shaking my head. I couldn't drive this thing with four good tires, and I didn't know what I was going to do with two.
"That was the magic. The car just needed to be tightened up. Those other guys, on two tires I was able to race with them. Had I raced for very long I wouldn't have been able to do it."
Dale Jarrett was third in a Ford, and defending champion Mark Martin - runner-up to Gordon each of the previous three races - was fourth in a Ford.
"I'm in shock," Gordon said. "I cannot believe this. Mark Martin deserved this race more than anyone here this weekend. I really thought that I was going to finish in the top five and be happy with that."
It was the first time the high-banked oval speedway had been used since safety fences were extended following the deaths of three fans by debris after Adrian Fernandez's Indy-car slammed into a wall in the U.S. 500 on July 26.
It was the worst accident ever at the speedway. Six other spectators were injured. There was a moment of silence before the race for the three who died.
Gordon now leads Martin by 97 points in the Winston Cup standings - an increase of 15. Martin, a four-time Michigan winner, was racing despite the deaths a week earlier of three family members.
Martin and the others seemed to have the best of Gordon's poor-handling car, which raced nearly 20 seconds behind and barely in the top 10 for much of the event.But everything changed after the third and final caution flag came out on the 179th of 200 laps, when Ward Burton blew an engine. Martin, Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett where running 1-2-3 at that time.
Virtually all the cars on the lead lap went in for a final pit stop with 20 laps to go. The stop turned the race around for Gordon, whose car had been alternately too tight, then too loose.
While the Gordon crew was working its magic, Burton ran over his air hose leaving the pit and was forced to return.
That made the order Martin, Jarrett and Gordon with 18 laps remaining and the caution flag still out. When the restart came three laps later, Gordon quickly passed Jarrett, and the race was on for the lead.
Gordon rapidly closed the gap, but Martin used every trick he could think of to prevent his rival from getting by. The cars almost touched twice.
Finally, after some furious racing before an estimated 140,000 fans, Gordon went low in turn 3 to take the lead on the 192nd lap. He roared on to his destiny as Martin, Jarrett and Labonte lost the advantage of a draft by racing side to side.
It was an especially bitter defeat for Martin, who also won at Michigan in June. His father, half-sister and his father's wife were killed in a plane crash in Nevada. The funeral was Wednesday in Arkansas.
"I don't care if I ever win another race," Martin said. "I wanted this one, though. I wanted this one for them pretty bad, and I dedicate my second place to them.
"We'll just move on and look to next week."
Gordon's run over the past four seasons has been unrivaled since the prime of Richard Petty, and put the 27-year-old driver in select company. The win tied him with Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Harry Gant, Bill Elliott and Martin as the only drivers in the modern era to win four consecutive races.
Those drivers all won at Michigan. Now, Gordon has, too, in his 12th try. The only tracks where Gordon has yet to win are Phoenix, Texas and Las Vegas. But there have been only two races at Texas and one at Las Vegas.
He gets a chance to break the record for consecutive victories Saturday night in Bristol, Tenn., where he already has won four times - including once this season.
It was Gordon's 37th victory in 177 career NASCAR Winston Cup starts. It was his eighth win this season and his 26th career triumph on a superspeedway.
Ernie Irvan, who won his first Michigan pole in qualifying, led nine times for 113 laps. It was the first time this season a Pontiac has led the most laps, but Irvan finished sixth, behind Burton.
Gordon averaged 151.99 mph in matching the late Bobby Isaac for 15th spot in career victories.