Across the rest of the garage, a look of concern could be seen.
Yep, Gordon is officially back, proving it Sunday by winning the Southern 500 for a record-tying fifth time. After going winless for 31 straight races, Gordon has won two in a row and showed he’s a serious contender for the Winston Cup championship.
“This, to me, legitimizes our threat for the championship and I think it legitimizes us in the garage area with the other competitors,” Gordon said. “That doesn’t mean they’re going to stand down, we’ve still got a lot of work to do. But right now we’ve got a little bit more confidence, a little bit of momentum and that fire in our eyes.”
Gordon beat rookie Ryan Newman to the finish line at Darlington Raceway by more than the length of a football field for his 60th career victory, sixth at NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway, and fifth in the Southern 500 — tying Cale Yarborough for wins in the prestigious race.
Bill Elliott finished third in a Dodge, Winston Cup points leader Sterling Marlin was fourth in a Dodge, and Dale Jarrett brought his Ford across the line in fifth.
Defending race winner Ward Burton finished sixth and was followed by Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, rookie Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Burton.
The finishing order tightened up the points race and made Gordon a legitimate threat for his fifth Winston Cup title. With his victory, the defending champion moved into second place in the standings, 91 points behind Marlin.
“Last year we got a fire in our eye when we were going for the championship and we lost a little bit of it,” Gordon said. “But we kept the faith and belief in one another and now we’ve got the fire back. It’s pretty cool because it’s awesome going to the race track when you’ve got that fire in your eyes.”
There’s a definite look of fear in everyone else’s eyes.
“Jeff looks like he’s getting on a roll,” Marlin said. “We’ll have to keep an eye on him.”
And Bill Elliott, who sits in seventh place in the standings, said it was Gordon’s championship to lose.
“He is always the man to beat, past history tells you that,” Elliott said. “Jeff is coming up on a good stretch and that team is really strong. If they don’t have any bad luck, they’ll be hard to beat.