After winning the Bank of America 500 on Saturday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon got a little metaphysical.
"I believe everything happens for a reason," the four-time Cup champion said. "I don't have all of the answers to it, but whatever we're doing we're going to keep on doing it."
If that happens, Gordon is going to add a fifth title to his collection of NASCAR hardware and cap off what he's already decided is going to be the best year of his remarkable life.
"I don't care what happens with the championship," said Gordon, who leads Jimmie Johnson by 68 points and Clint Bowyer by 78 in the Chase for the Nextel Cup standings. "This is my year."
Gordon said that because it's the year he became a father, an experience that has moved him deeply. His daughter, Ella, made her first trip to Victory Lane a weekend earlier at Talladega, Ala., and Gordon said that made his 80th win the most memorable one he's had.
The 81st win, his sixth of the season but his first at the 1.5-mile LMS track since 1999, was among the most bizarre.
There was a time with about 40 laps left that it looked as if Gordon had a cakewalk. He'd passed Bowyer to take the lead on Lap 273 and had pulled away to a comfortable advantage.
"I was sitting there saying, `No caution, no caution, no caution,' " Gordon said.
So, naturally, Jeff Green's car starting irrigating the racing surface with leaking oil and NASCAR waited until Johnny Sauter wrecked to do anything about it. Then, the cars were stopped for a red flag, and only five laps remained when the green waved again.
It was a stupefying sequence, and during it Gordon said he must have switched off his own brain. He noticed the engine sputtering in his No. 24 Chevrolet and figured it wasn't so much that he was out of fuel as it was that he didn't have enough in the pick-up that takes the gas from the reservoir into the engine. Still, he didn't think enough about it to get down on the apron to help keep things working as necessary.
So when the race restarted, Gordon's engine sort of didn't. "I had my foot flat to the floor and it was like somebody switched off the engine," he said.
Kyle Busch was on his teammate's rear bumper. During the red flag, he and Gordon had been admonished by team owner Rick Hendrick not to wreck each other, but with Gordon's car stammering it took a great deal of expertise for Busch not to unintentionally defy that order.
Busch had fuel issues, too, so his car wasn't really a jackrabbit on the restart, either. But Ryan Newman's Dodge was, and Newman shot to the outside and from fourth to first so fast it seemed he'd switched on an afterburner.
The power surged back into Gordon's motor when the fuel got flowing again. Gordon said he was trying to run down Newman, but was about to count his blessings that it wasn't a championship rival that had blown past him.
Then, Newman wrecked. The No. 12 Dodge spun sideways and slammed the Turn 2 wall.
"I couldn't believe it, but at the same time I was also thinking, `Don't get caught up in it,' " Gordon said. "It was a crazy chain of events."
There were still some links left, too. That yellow set up a green-white-checkered finish that extended the race three laps. This time, Gordon remembered to keep his car on the flatter apron to sustain the fuel flow.
"That time," he said, "it took off great." Too great. "I spun my tires all the way to the start-finish line," Gordon said.
Bowyer was up to second by that point. But instead of cutting to the low side and pulling past Gordon, he wound up rapping the No. 24's bumper. That nudge wound up helping Gordon keep Bowyer behind him.
"I didn't know whether to go down low or get out of Dodge, because he was fixing to spin out," Bowyer said.
It was neither. Gordon was fixing to pull away to his fifth career win at LMS and a leg up toward a fifth championship he's not anywhere near ready to claim.
This race ended about midnight, way past Ella's bedtime. But Gordon did have his parents in Victory Lane, and his sister was there, too, the first time in her brother's 81 wins that had happened.
"You have to work hard, be well prepared and put yourself in position for things to go your way," Gordon said. "Things don't just fall into your lap."
Unless, of course, there's a reason.
Chase for the Cup
|1. Jeff Gordon||--|
|2. Jimmie Johnson||-68|
|3. Clint Bowyer||-78|
|4. Tony Stewart||-198|
|5. Carl Edwards||-240|
|6. Kyle Busch||-280|
|7. Kurt Busch||-315|
|8. Kevin Harvick||-328|
|9. Denny Hamlin||-349|
|10. Jeff Burton||-366|
|11. Martin Truex Jr.||-378|
|12. Matt Kenseth||-442|