HOMESTEAD — Four-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon entered the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 having won 86 races, third-most all-time.
For all that trophy hoisting, Gordon had never raised any hardware at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Sunday, Gordon won for the first time in 14 tries at this venue. The last of Gordon’s Sprint Cup titles came in 2001, the year before Homestead-Miami began hosting Ford Championship Weekend.
Gordon’s second win of 2012 came in his 689th career Sprint Cup race. Gordon has now won at every active track except Kentucky Speedway, where he’s only made two starts.
“We’ve been really close here in past years with some good race cars, just coming up a bit short,” said Gordon, who before Sunday had six top-five and 11 top-10 finishes at Homestead-Miami. “Today we did all the right things.”
Making the victory extra special for Gordon and team owner Rick Hendrick was that this weekend they celebrated a 20-year partnership with sponsor DUPONT. Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet had a special paint scheme to mark that relationship.
Gordon led 14 laps and finished ahead of Clint Bowyer, with whom he had a well documented dustup the previous weekend at Phoenix.
“You can try all you want to move past the moment, but it just ate me up inside all week,” Gordon said. “I kept going back and forth from being disappointed, from being angry, feeling I had it right, feeling I didn’t have it right.”
The retaliatory move on Bowyer took both drivers out of the race and eliminated Bowyer from championship content. That thought was not needling Bowyer in the latter stages of Sunday’s race.
“I just really wanted to catch the 24,” he said. “That was the only what if that went through my mind at the end. No, I wouldn’t have taken us both out.”
Surprised in second
Bowyer thanks to Jimmie Johnson’s catastrophic gear oil problem, finished second in the points standings, 39 behind Brad Keselowski and one ahead of Johnson, who went off the track on lap 224.
“When we made the Chase my realistic goal was to be in the top 5,” Bowyer said. “I thought that was a reachable goal for our race team the way we had been running leading into the Chase. To be able to exceed that, I mean, we had a shot at it until last week. You just can’t ask for more than that out of a brand new group like that. Just very proud of all their efforts.”
Bowyer said his main goal was to finish ahead of Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Chevrolet to stay ahead of him in the points standings.
Keselowski gave Dodge a nice going away present. He won the Sprint Cup Championship in what was Dodge’s NASCAR swan song.
Before Keselowski, Dodge had not won a NASCAR championship since Richard Petty went back-to-back in 1974-75.
“To me it’s just one of those things, timing maybe, budgets and other things that really made the difference,” said Roger Penske, whose cars will feature Ford engines in 2013. “We’ve been with them for 10 years. I hope that they’ll be back in 2014 and maybe our results might help accelerate that for them to get back in the sport on a full-time basis.”