ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- Jeff Gordon dominated the Goodwrench 500 from the beginning yesterday, leading 329 of 492 laps at N.C. Motor Speedway to score his third NASCAR Winston Cup victory.
Gordon, 23, took the checkered flag 1.19 seconds ahead of Bobby Labonte at the 1.017 mile track. Seven-time national champion Dale Earnhardt followed a bit further back to give Chevrolet a sweep of the top three positions.
Ford team owner-driver Ricky Rudd was fourth, the only other driver to complete all 500 miles in the event marked by 10 accidents.
Gordon began the season's second race from the pole, and with his start first-finish first feat earned a bonus $91,200 from Unocal, for total winnings of $167,600 from the Sandhills speedway's first $1 million purse.
"Winning the pole on Friday got us pumped up again for this race," Gordon said of his Hendrick Motorsports team, which felt it gave away the season-opening Daytona 500 with a pit error. "And winning this race, it being so early in the season, gets us pumped up for the rest of the year. We've bounced back from about slitting our wrists at Daytona."
Gordon's ride before a crowd estimated at 59,000 appeared flawless except for a wild run through traffic as he and Labonte raced at close quarters on Lap 465.
The two caught the lapped cars of Kenny Wallace and Ricky Craven down the frontstretch, and for a moment it seemed all four were uncertain where to go. Gordon dived low, Labonte went high and somehow there was no contact.
Gordon emerged a bit further ahead and Labonte never mounted another serious challenge.
"My crew chief, Ray Evernham, and the rest of the guys had the car handling like it was on rails," said Gordon, who averaged 125.396 mph despite 58 laps run under caution. "It got a little loose once, but they corrected that by adjusting the tire pressure."
Gordon claimed his first two victories in 1994, taking the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.
It's the best Winston Cup showing for Labonte, the 1991 Grand National champion in his first season with Joe Gibbs racing. His previous best was fifth place.
"A day like today excites me about our potential for the rest of the season," said Labonte, who led 62 laps en route winning $61,350. "My hat's off to Jeff. He was awesome today."
RF Labonte rallied from a solo spinout on Lap 433 in Turn 2 to finish
Said Earnhardt: "Our car kept getting tighter and we couldn't get it loosened up. We'd like to have won, since Goodwrench also sponsors our car. But coming from 23rd starting position to lead all those laps (72, second most) and place third isn't bad."
Earnhardt's finish, combined with his runner-up showing in the Daytona 500, vaulted him into a 29-point lead toward an eighth Winston Cup championship.
Gordon's win gave him the lead toward The Charlotte Observer Cup, which goes to the driver with the best overall showing in the eight Winston Cup races at four tracks in the Carolinas.
Rusty Wallace, figured by many as the top challenger to Earnhardt for the championship, ran with the leaders until his Ford developed engine trouble on Lap 388. Wallace wound up 24th.
The worst of the accidents occurred on Lap 179 when a Chevy driven by Jimmy Hensley got tagged into the wall coming off Turn 4. Hensley's car angled across the track and was hit in the rear by the Pontiac of Greg Sacks, who found his path blocked.
Hensley's car was lifted into the air and nearly turned over. The front of the Sacks machine was destroyed.
However, neither driver was hurt, and there were no injuries in the other incidents.
Gordon came to the press box complaining of a stomach ailment, but said the victory at what he considers "a tough track, a drivers' track" was good medicine.
1. (1) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 492, $167,600 (includes $91,200 Unocal bonus for winning from the pole), 125.396 mph. 2. (15) Bobby Labonte, Chevrolet Lumina, 492, $61,350. 3. (23) Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 492, $40,740. 4. (2) Ricky Rudd, Ford Thunderbird, 492, $33,480. 5. (26) Dale Jarrett, Ford Thunderbird, 491, $34,075. 6. (21) Steve Grissom, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 491, $20,300. 7. (19) Mark Martin, Ford Thunderbird, 490, $28,325. 8. (6) Derrike Cope, Ford Thunderbird, 489, $18,425. 9. (41) Ward Burton, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 489, $15,725. 10. (27) Kyle Petty, Pontiac Grand Prix, 489, $26,250.
11. (24) Bill Elliott, Ford Thunderbird, 489, $13,025. 12. (22) Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 488, $25,775. 13. (7) John Andretti, Ford Thunderbird, 488, $12,525. 14. (3) Brett Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 487, $25,425. 15. (31) Mike Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 486, $12,625. 16. (8) Ricky Craven, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 486, $17,225. 17. (11) Michael Waltrip, Pontiac Grand Prix, 485, $20,925. 18. (34) Jeremy Mayfield, Ford Thunderbird, 483, $11,525. 19. (18) Jeff Burton, Ford Thunderbird, 483, $21,275. 20. (29) Kenny Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 477, $12,375.
21. (4) Geoff Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 474, $25,475. 22. (14) Dick Trickle, Ford Thunderbird, 471, $19,775. 23. (42) Dave Marcis, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 462, $10,625. 24. (16) Rusty Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 451, overheating, $25,725. 25. (20) Randy LaJoie, Pontiac Grand Prix, 438, $19,925. 26. (30) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 436, $30,115. 27. (39) Steve Kinser, Ford Thunderbird, 436, $18,915. 28. (40) Loy Allen Jr., Ford Thunderbird, 433, $18,165. 29. (13) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 417, rear end, $9,990. 30. (28) Jimmy Spencer, Ford Thunderbird, 417, $13,540.
Time of race: 3:59:25. Margin of victory: 1.19-seconds (about 20 car lengths). Caution flags: 11 for 58 laps. Lead changes: 19 among 7 drivers.
Lap leaders: Rudd 1-2; Gordon 3-70; Rudd 71; Gordon 72-83; Earnhardt 84-135; Gordon 136-144; Earnhardt 145-163; Schrader 164-177; Gordon 178-218; T.Labonte 219-223; Gordon 224-244; Shepherd 245-250; B.Labonte 251-278; Gordon 279-286; Shepherd 287; Gordon 288-374; Earnhardt 375; B.Labonte 376-409; Gordon 410-492.
Series point leaders: Earnhardt 345; Martin 316; Marlin 312; Jarrett 310; Grissom 296; Rudd 289; Gordon 287; M.Waltrip 267; Petty 261; W.Burton 256; B.Labonte 248; T.Labonte 232; Craven 230; Trickle 227; (tie) Musgrave and Elliott 224.