AVONDALE, AZ (Sports Network) – Jeff Gordon’s dry spell came to an end on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
Not only did Gordon end a career-long 66-race winless streak in the Sprint Cup Series, but he spoiled Kyle Busch’s attempt at another NASCAR trifecta as well.
Gordon passed Busch with eight laps remaining, and then held him off by 1.1 seconds for his first win since April 2009 at Texas. The four-time Sprint Cup champion collected his 83rd career victory, which placed him in a tie with Cale Yarborough for fifth on the series’ all-time race winners list.
“I don’t really care how we did it; we just wanted to get to victory lane,” Gordon said. “To do it that way and to see the fans’ reaction, hey, we beat Kyle Busch this weekend. He is so tough to beat.”
Gordon’s win came in his second race with new crew chief Alan Gustafson.
Just days after the 2010 season-finale at Homestead, FL, team owner Rick Hendrick made a crew chief swap for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin and Gordon’s teams
Steve Letarte moved over to Earnhardt Jr.’s No.88 team after serving as Gordon’s crew chief for the No.24 since the latter part of the 2005 season. Lance McGrew ended his tenure with Earnhardt Jr. and now serves in the role for Martin. Gustafson had been Martin’s crew chief at the No.5 team.
“What an awesome feeling it is when you got the car right,” said Gordon, who led a race-high 138 laps. “When its 20 [laps] to go, it’s your job to go get it done. I got what I needed to pull it off.”
Gordon collected the maximum amount of points for a win with 48. It included three bonus points for the victory, as well as two extra points for leading the most laps. NASCAR revised its point system during the off-season.
Gordon’s first win at Phoenix came in April 2007, when he tied the late-Dale Earnhardt with 76 career Cup wins.
Busch came up short of winning all three of NASCAR’s national touring series races at Phoenix. He won the Camping World Truck event on Friday and the Nationwide race on Saturday. Busch’s first NASCAR trifecta came last August at Bristol, TN.
On lap 59, Busch made contact with pole sitter Carl Edwards, sending Edwards into the wall and triggering a five-car accident. Busch was dealing with an ill-handling car at the time of the incident. He had fallen as far back as 36th, but managed to rebound with a second-place finish.
“It was a real big mistake on my part early, and the first person I got to apologize to is Carl Edwards for what happened there on the backstretch,” Busch said. “[The car] just got out from underneath me, and we were getting bounced around like a ping pong ball there for a while. I got into [Edwards], and it killed his day. I know he is frustrated.”
Edwards, who was second to Trevor Bayne in last week’s Daytona 500, finished 50 laps behind in 28th.
“My first impression was Kyle just got mad and cut me down, but I think he might have been loose,” Edwards said. “I hope that’s what happened, because that’s too bold of a move to make early in the race.”
Bayne also wrecked early in the race, which capped off a disappointing weekend for the Daytona 500 champion. He made contact with Travis Kvapil and backed into the wall along the frontstretch on lap 50.
“I tried to stay on the gas and keep it turning, but it backed into the wall,” said Bayne, who finished 40th.
After a four-day Daytona 500-winning media tour across the country, Bayne’s weekend started on a wrong note when he wrecked his primary car in Friday’s practice and had to rely on a backup car. He finished 31st in the Nationwide race after being involved in an accident in the late-going.
The 312-lap Sprint Cup race featured a 14-car pileup on lap 67 when Brian Vickers got sideways and took out one-third of the field. Jamie McMurray, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer were among those involved in the incident.
“It’s a shame because we’re all better race car drivers than this,” Bowyer said of the melee. “To be racing this hard early in the race, it looks like we’re all out there racing for the first time.”
Jimmie Johnson, the five-time defending series champion and four-time race winner at Phoenix, finished third, while Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman — who won this race last year — rounded out the top-five.
Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, A.J. Allmendinger and Earnhardt Jr. were sixth through 10th, respectively. Earnhardt Jr. bounced back from a one- lap deficit when a loose wheel forced him to pit late in the race.
Kyle Busch holds a three-point lead over his older brother, Kurt, as they head to their hometown of Las Vegas for next Sunday’s race there.
This was the last Sprint Cup event at Phoenix before the flat one-mile track is repaved in time for the series’ return here for the penultimate race in November.