Gordon stays perfect with win at Sonoma

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 28, 2004

SONOMA, Calif. - Jeff Gordon wrapped up a near perfect weekend Sunday, starting from the pole and racing to an overpowering victory in the NASCAR race at Infineon Raceway.

Gordon picked up his fourth victory on the 1.99-mile, 10-turn road course, winning for the third time from the pole. It also extended his own Nextel Cup record for road racing wins to eight and gave him three for the season and 67 for his career.

''We've had some bad finishes lately and we wanted this one real bad,'' said Gordon, who got out of his No. 24 Chevrolet soaked with sweat and just about spent after leading 92 of 110 laps on a hot afternoon at the scenic wine country circuit.

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''I drove out and got as big a lead as I could and gave a lot of it up there at the end,'' said Gordon, who had his overheated driver's seat iced down during his last pit stop. ''It was real tough.''

It didn't look that way.

Gordon beat surprising Jamie McMurray, in only his second start at the Sonoma track, to the finish line by 1.032-seconds - about 10 car-lengths, with road racing specialist Scott Pruett third.

McMurray said he never thought he had a shot at Gordon in Sunday's Dodge/Save Mart 350.

''He was just so strong out there,'' last year's top rookie said. ''I think that Jeff was kind of cruising there at the end.''

Kurt Busch started third and vaulted past both Gordon and Rusty Wallace to grab the lead on the first lap, but Gordon quickly moved back into the top spot and stayed there the rest of the way except during pit stop sequences.

He made his final stop on lap 68 during one of six caution periods. When he got back on track, Gordon found himself behind Casey Mears and rookie Kasey Kahne, both of whom had pitted earlier.

Gordon quickly disposed of Kahne on the restart on lap 70, but it took him until lap 74 before he could work his way past former open-wheel racer Mears. Once Gordon got back on top, he was never challenged again.

Meanwhile, McMurray got past Wallace and Mears to grab second on lap 79, then spent the rest of the race trying without success to cut into Gordon's lead.

Wallace, another of NASCAR's best road racers, was right behind Pruett in fourth when he ran out of gas after crossing the finish line a lap from the end. He wound up 28th as Michael Waltrip, who started 40th in the 43-car field, took over fourth place.

Series leader Jimmie Johnson, Gordon's teammate, finished fifth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. recovered from two spins to finish 11th, but fell from seven to 27 points behind Johnson in the season standings.