BROOKLYN, Mich. – It had been 13 years since Jeff Gordon’s last victory at Michigan – which came during the same season as his most recent championship on NASCAR’s top series.
One of those droughts is finally over. Can the 43-year-old driver end the other as well?
“Certainly things are going well – there’s no doubt about that,” Gordon said. “I’m as shocked as anybody else.”
Gordon raced to his third Sprint Cup victory of the year, holding off Kevin Harvick on Sunday for his first win at Michigan International Speedway since 2001.
Gordon broke the track qualifying record Friday when he took the pole at 206.558 mph. He followed that up with his third Cup victory at MIS – and took over the points lead from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After a series of cautions, Gordon came off the final restart well and led with 16 laps remaining. He fought off a challenge from Joey Logano and maintained a comfortable margin over Harvick, winning the 400-mile race by 1.412 seconds in his No. 24 Chevrolet.
“Joey, as we rolled up to some of the restarts – not that last one, but some of the other ones – as guys were starting to sort of anticipate it, he was slowing down, and when he slowed down, everybody got bottled up, and then he’d take off,” Gordon said. “That last one, I thought he had a good start, but I had a good one, too.”
Harvick was second, followed by Logano, Paul Menard and Earnhardt.
Gordon completed a sweep at MIS for Hendrick. Jimmie Johnson won the June race on the two-mile oval.
“I think all of our teams are running well, but this is a big, big win,” owner Rick Hendrick said. “It’s great to see Jeff so happy. He’s like a little kid again, so I think it’s going to be really, really important for the momentum he’s carrying right now into the Chase.”
Logano was second to Gordon in qualifying. He led 86 laps and Gordon was in front for 68.
“We can win a championship. I really feel we can do that. That’s the message I want to put out there,” Logano said. “We’ve got to find a little bit more speed to keep up with one car today — 24 car was the best, only because he was good on the long run. We weren’t as good on the long run.
There were eight cautions, including a fairly early one when Danica Patrick’s car spun and Justin Allgaier crashed into her. Nine cars were caught up in that incident, including Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota.
Kenseth never really recovered, finishing 38th.
Brad Keselowski rubbed against the wall with about 32 laps remaining and finished eighth, remaining winless at this track in his home state. Johnson overcame some problems of his own to finish ninth, his first top-10 showing in six races.
Jeff Burton was 37th after replacing Tony Stewart in the No. 14 car. Stewart skipped his second straight Cup race after he struck and killed a driver at a dirt-track race in New York last weekend.
Hendrick and Stewart-Haas Racing are alliance teams. Hendrick said he hasn’t talked to Stewart, but he’s been in touch with Eddie Jarvis, Stewart’s longtime business manager.
“I think they’re making the best of the situation that they’re in,” Hendrick said. “Tony’s got a lot of good folks around him.”
Gordon won for the 91st time on the Cup circuit, and this is his first three-win season since 2011. He took over the lead in the standings by three points over Earnhardt.
Gordon also won this season at Kansas and Indianapolis.
“As a driver, especially somebody that’s been getting beat up over the years about restarts, it’s pretty nice to have the last two wins come down to restarts.”
Assuming they attempt to qualify for the final three races of the regular-season, the 12 drivers with victories this season have all wrapped up spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Kenseth remains the top driver without a victory in the standings, but he dropped to fifth place. If the regular season ended now, the last four drivers in the Chase would be Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle.
Bowyer and Biffle both moved ahead of rookie Kyle Larson, whose car caught fire against the wall just before the halfway point. Larson ended up 43rd.
Bowyer finished sixth but sounded concerned about his situation.
“We’re behind, there’s no question. We just did what we needed to do today,” he said. “Right now, everything has to be perfect to get a decent finish and today everything was perfect. This is a tricky part of the season. Everybody is pushing hard.”