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Published: Monday, 4/6/2009

Jeff Gordon returns to victory lane

ASSOCIATED PRESS

FORT WORTH - Jeff Gordon went so long without winning a race that he picked up a new trick or two watching other drivers celebrate.

No, not a backflip a la Carl Edwards.

After the obligatory burnout on the frontstretch for his first victory ever at Texas, one that ended his career-high 47-race winless drought in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Gordon pulled up to the start-finish line and got the checkered flag to take on a long-awaited victory lap.

"It was the coolest. It was like winning for the very first time," Gordon said. "Things have changed since I won a race. That's the first time I've ever carried a checkered flag in NASCAR. I used to do that in quarter-midgets when I was 8."

Then, after doing another burnout on the backstretch, Gordon finally got to drive into Victory Lane at Texas, where winners get cowboy hats and fire six-shooters into the air.

"This is a huge relief, but also very exciting," Gordon said. "If we can win at Texas, I feel like we can win anywhere."

Gordon, already the season points leader with four top-five finishes in the first six races, beat Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson to win for the first time on the 1 1/2-mile high-banked Texas track - leaving only one active track he hasn't won at in his No. 24 Chevrolet.

Edwards, who was going for three in a row at Texas finished 10th after passing Gordon to lead only nine laps late in the race.

The only track Gordon now hasn't won at is Homestead. He will have to wait until the season finale in November for a chance to change that.

Not only was it his first victory in Texas, it was the first time Gordon had won anywhere since October, 2007, at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte.

During interviews in Victory Lane at Texas, Gordon had to sneak a peek at the logos on his car to remind himself of everybody he needed to thank. It had been a long time, especially by his standards.

Rick Hendrick wasn't there, so Gordon tried to talk to him by cell phone from Victory Lane. Also missing were his wife and daughter.

"I'm just thrilled. I can't wait to get home to Ingrid and Ella," Gordon said. "I know [Ella] was saying 'Go poppy go' all day long. I hate that they couldn't come."

Gordon won by 0.542 seconds with an average speed of 146.372 mph for his 82nd career victory, one behind Cale Yarborough for fifth on the all-time list. Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip are tied for third on that list with 84 victories.

Edwards was leading when the final caution came out, but his crew had problems changing tires and he dropped 10 spots to 11th coming off pit row. Gordon had a flawless stop and stayed in front the rest of the way.

Greg Biffle finished third, followed by Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Ryan Briscoe held off Ryan Hunter-Reay to win the IndyCar Series season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg yesterday.

Briscoe, driving for Team Penske, passed Justin Wilson for the lead on a restart 14 laps from the end of the crash-filled Honda Grand Prix. The Aussie then stayed out front.

Dario Franchitti, returning to IndyCar after spending part of last year in NASCAR, ran a solid race and finished fourth.



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