Ray Evernham figured he was either going to make Jeff Gordon very happy or very angry. The veteran crew chief made the right call during a crucial late pit stop and Gordon drove into the record book.
Gordon became the seventh driver in modern NASCAR history to win four straight races, coming from far back Sunday to capture the Pepsi 400. It was his first victory at Michigan Speedway.The Chevrolet had been alternately too tight and too loose all day. As a result, Gordon had fallen almost 20 seconds behind the leaders. So when the third and final caution flag came out on the 179th of 200 laps, Evernham took a chance.
He ordered the car tightened up and two right-side tires put on.
"We made some adjustments and pulled some spring rubbers out," Evernham said. "Really, that was our only shot. We were sixth. Ten cars were on the lead lap.
"Sixth to 10th really doesn't matter to us. I wanted to take a shot at doing good."
Gordon took the lead for the only time with eight laps to go. 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 in each of the previous three races - was fourth in a Ford.
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 - his father, stepmother and half-sister.
"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."
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 victory as Martin, Jarrett and Labonte lost the advantage of a draft by racing side to side.
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.