Phoenix Firsts: Jeff Gordon Sets Marks in Subway Fresh 500

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Phoenix Firsts: Jeff Gordon Sets Marks in Subway Fresh 500
IconHere's a hot stock tip for those of you who play the market: Buy Kimberly-Clark (KMB on the NYSE) first thing Monday morning. 
 
Why?
 
Sales of Kleenex are soaring—because all the Jeff Gordon haters out there are crying their eyes out...and Tony Stewart's sobbing right along with them.
 
Boo hoo. Such music to my ears.
 
This weekend's Subway Fresh 500 at Phoenix International Raceway played host to a number of firsts. Foremost among them: It was the first night race of the season, and the first "superspeedway" race for the Car Of Tomorrow—if you consider a one-mile track a "superspeedway," which NASCAR's head honchos do.
 
When the Nextel Cup teams unloaded on Thursday, questions abounded as to how the COT would perform on a longer track after outings on the half-mile ovals at Bristol and Martinsville. 
 
The frontrunners, on the other hand? They were never in doubt:  The Hendrick cars were two-for-two in COT races—Kyle Busch won at Bristol, with Gordon third; Jimmie Johnson held off Gordon for the checkers at Martinsville.
 
In Phoenix, Gordon won his third pole of the season with a dominating qualifying run. Then he led final practice "Happy Hour." This should have sounded alarm bells for the haters: The Hendrick team has the COT figured out.
 
Jeff led the most laps last weekend at Texas before a late brush with the wall left him struggling to finish fourth.  At Phoenix, he'd never won in a Cup car; he'd triumphed in other machines, and finished second in Nextel competition—but he'd never been able to get over that hump.
 
Saturday brought redemption.
 
Things got off to an inauspicious start for the 24 team, with a communication system issue forcing a flurry of activity after the engines had already started. A replacement helmet ultimately solved the problem, though, and Gordon got off to a solid start from his spot on the inside of the front row.
 
Jeff surrendered his early advantage to Denny Hamlin, who led the race until a pit-road speeding ticket sent him to the back of the field. (Remarkably, Hamlin would recover to finish third.)  Tony Stewart took the point after that and went on to lead the most laps—but Gordon was never far behind.
 
A late-race crash and caution threw the field into turmoil, and it was then that luck smiled on "Big Daddy" Gordon (his wife Ingrid is expecting in June).
 
Jeff was already halfway down pit road when the caution flew, and his team wisely completed their service and kept him on the lead lap. When the remaining lead-lap cars pitted under caution, Gordon was out front—but had three drivers, including Martin Truex Jr., between him and the pace car.
 
Truex spent too much time trying to hold off Gordon after the restart, allowing Stewart to catch and pass the 24. Gordon controlled his anger and refocused it, then showed why he's a four-time champion by driving under Stewart, retaking the lead, and never looking back.
 
And about Saturday being a night for "firsts": Jeff Gordon became the first man to ever win from the pole at Phoenix. 
 
After completing a cool-down lap, Gordon took a "3" flag around the track in honor of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr.
 
The hater crowd showed their true colors by throwing objects at Gordon's passing car—much as they'd done at Talladega.
 
Boo hoo. Here's a tissue.
 
Just in case you're not up on the numbers, Gordon is now tied with Darrell Waltrip for career poles (59—fourth all-time) and with Earnhardt for career wins (76).
 
And the number the haters really don't want to hear: The Intimidator got those wins in 676 career starts.  Jeff Gordon has them in 481.  Not to mention that DE Sr. won only 22 career poles.
 
Senior raced in a different time, to be sure—but there was less parity in the 80s and 90s, and no "Chase" for the Nextel Cup (or Winston Cup, as it were).
 
I'd say it's highly unlikely that anyone will ever match Earnhardt or Richard Petty with seven Cup Championships. Still, Jeff Gordon tied Dale Earnhardt Sr. in career wins on Saturday night with far fewer starts to his credit—and beat Tony Stewart (the "3" wannabe I lambasted last week) to do it.
 
And hey: Maybe there'll be a run on Kraft stock as well.  After all, the haters may want some cheese to go along with all that whine.
 
 
For more on all things racing, check out The Rubbin's Racing Show online at www.rubbinsracingshow.com. The Rubbin's Racing Show: Your Home for Racing Talk—By Race Fans, For Race Fans.
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