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Sunday, March 22, 2009
Updated: March 30, 1:40 PM ET
Gordon's famed No. 24 already 'in championship form'

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

(AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

Jeff Gordon escaped trouble when he got past a sideways Jamie McMurray in Turn 2 at Bristol.

Jeff Gordon continues to lead the Sprint Cup standings, once again proving that winning is not a requirement to rank at the top of the heap.

Kyle Busch has won two of the first five races and ranks fourth after his victory Sunday at Bristol. Matt Kenseth also has two victories, but he ranks 10th, again proving that victories don't guarantee a driver will make the 12-man Chase for the Cup field.

Gordon finished fourth Sunday, the fourth consecutive race he has finished sixth or better.

"I just love the fight these guys are putting up," Gordon said in a TV interview immediately after the race Sunday. "I mean, I wish the Chase was right now, because we are in championship form."

Well, upon further review, he might not wish the Chase was set to start. Gordon is 76 points ahead of second-place Kurt Busch at the moment. But Gordon would start fourth in the Chase at this point, 20 points behind Kyle Busch and Kenseth and 10 points behind Kurt Busch.

Gordon knows he has to get back to Victory Lane if he hopes to stay on top when playoff time comes. Drivers are seeded by victories, so leading the points won't be enough when the Chase starts in September.

But Gordon has plenty of time to change his winless status, 21 events, to be exact. Gordon has gone 46 consecutive races without a victory. That could change this weekend at Martinsville, a racetrack where he has won seven times.

Does it matter? Not necessarily.

Consider these historical facts. Martinsville is the sixth race of the season. In two of the five Chase seasons, the champion was winless after six events -- Tony Stewart in 2005 and Jimmie Johnson last year. But it happened only once in the six seasons before the Chase was implemented -- Kenseth in 2003.

Gordon believes he is racing at a level where the victories will come.

"We are very consistent," Gordon told reporters after the Food City 500. "We are fighting. We are making good adjustments and having great pit stops."

In other words, the team is doing everything right, with one small exception: It still hasn't ended the victory drought.

Gordon isn't concerned. The way the four-time champion and the No. 24 crew are performing this season bears little resemblance to the way things went last year when Gordon often struggled to compete on an even keel with Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson.

Gordon is ahead of all those contenders after five races. But a victory could erase any bit of lingering doubt some people may have regarding whether Gordon has fully returned to championship form.

Nationwide Series: Winless Edwards leading the pack

In an incredibly odd scheduling quirk, the Nationwide Series will have its third off weekend in four weeks before racing at Texas Motor Speedway on April 4.

Kevin Harvick made Sprint Cup regulars 4-for-4 this season in Nationwide races with his victory in the Scotts Turf Builder 300 on Saturday at Bristol.

But a Cup regular who hasn't won a Nationwide race this year -- Carl Edwards -- continues to lead the standings. Edwards is running the full Nationwide schedule and hopes to win his second championship in three seasons.

A Cup regular has won the past three Nationwide titles. But a former Cup regular hopes to become a contender for the championship this season.

Brendan Gaughan, who is driving the No. 62 Chevy for Rusty Wallace Racing, ranks fourth in the standings, the highest-ranking Nationwide-only driver.

"I just really want to thank this whole team for giving me the chance to drive these hot rods," Gaughan said Friday at Bristol in a press conference. "I'm having more fun this year than I've ever had in racing."

Gaughan started on the pole at Bristol, his first Nationwide pole, but finished 21st. He is competing for the series' rookie of the year honors even though he raced a full season in Cup in 2004, finishing 28th in the standings.

But the rest of Gaughan's career was spent in the Camping World Truck Series, where he has eight career victories and finished fourth in the standings in 2003.

To win the title, Gaughan or any other Nationwide-only driver will need to beat Edwards and Kyle Busch, the other Cup regular planning to run the full Nationwide schedule.

Busch had a chance to win at Bristol before a pit-crew error on his last stop dropped him back in the field. He finished sixth. Busch blamed his crew over his radio and didn't speak to reporters after the event.

"We had a good car," said Jason Ratcliff, crew chief of the No. 18 Toyota that Busch drove. "Kyle drove the wheels off of it. He drove hard. When you work hard and you don't get your rewards for it, it's frustrating. It's frustrating for this race team, but we'll move on."

Camping World Truck Series: Bring on Martinsville

NASCAR's third-tier series took the weekend off and will resume Saturday at Martinsville.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Terry can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Monday's SportsNation Chat

Ryan McGee

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Ryan McGee chat

Jayski Podcast

Jayski Podcast

Kyle Busch wins the Sprint Cup race at Bristol, beating teammate Denny Hamlin. Plus, Kevin Harvick nails down a big Nationwide Series win.
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Racing Resources Says …

Sprint Cup Series

Kyle Busch

Busch

  • Kyle Busch won the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

  • Busch, who started 19th, became the second repeat race winner in 2009. Busch also won at Las Vegas. He joined Matt Kenseth, who won the first two races in 2009 (Daytona and California).

  • Busch posted his 14th career Cup victory in 155 races. He has won five of the 12 NASCAR races in 2009: two Cup, two Truck and one Nationwide.

  • Busch moved to 46th on NASCAR's all-time wins list with 14 Cup victories, tying Dick Hutcherson, LeeRoy Yarbrough and Greg Biffle.

  • Busch posted his second victory in 25 races on the three short tracks (Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond). Both wins have come at Bristol. This was his second Bristol victory in nine races. It was his sixth top-10 finish in his past seven races at Bristol.

  • Crew chief Steve Addington posted his 10th Cup victory in his 150th Cup race as a crew chief. All 10 of his crew chief victories have come with Busch.

  • This was the first win by a Toyota in a Cup race at Bristol.

  • Joe Gibbs Racing scored its second Bristol victory -- the other by Tony Stewart. JGR scored its 70th victory overall, which ranks eighth all time. It was JGR's sixth 1-2 finish. Denny Hamlin finished second.

  • Busch led five times for 378 laps in Sunday's race, including the final 59 laps. He led 415 laps in the August 2008 Bristol race. Combined, Busch has led 793 of the 1,003 laps in those two races. JGR has led 1,172 laps in the 1,509 laps of the past three Bristol races.

  • Busch led 156 laps in the Nationwide race Saturday, finishing sixth. He led 534 of the 803 laps raced this weekend (67 percent).

  • The Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt, have won the past three Cup races.

  • Jeff Gordon leads the Cup points standings by 76 over second-place Kurt Busch. Gordon finished fourth, posting his fifth top-15 finish of 2009. He's the only driver to finish among the top 15 in all five races so far this season.

  • Gordon extended his winless streak to 46 races since October 2007 at Lowe's.

  • Jimmie Johnson (third) tied his best finish in 15 races at Bristol. Johnson climbed from 13th to ninth in the standings, the first time in 2009 that Johnson has been among the top 12. Johnson began the season ranked 31st after Daytona.

  • Clint Bowyer (13th) extended a 78-race streak of running at the finish that began at Homestead in November 2006. Bowyer's last DNF came at Phoenix on Nov. 12, 2006, when he finished 33rd thanks to oil-pump failure.

  • Scott Speed (28th) was the higher-finishing rookie contender among the two rookies in the race. Joey Logano finished 38th.

  • This was the third green-white-checkered finish at Bristol, all in the past three spring races.

  • The top 10 consisted of six Chevrolets, one Dodge and three Toyotas. The highest-finishing Ford belonged to Carl Edwards (15th).

Nationwide Series

Kevin Harvick

Harvick

  • Kevin Harvick won the Scotts Turf Builder 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway, posting his first victory for Kevin Harvick Inc. He became the fourth different race winner in four races this season.

  • Harvick scored his 33rd Nationwide victory in his 218th race; his last win came at Texas in November 2007. Harvick went 27 races since his last series victory. Thirty-two of Harvick's 33 Nationwide wins came with Richard Childress Racing.

  • Harvick climbed from seventh to second in the points standings, 114 behind leader Carl Edwards. Harvick remains second on NASCAR's Nationwide all-time wins list behind Mark Martin, who has 48 series victories.

  • Harvick scored his fifth Nationwide Bristol victory in his 18 races. He last won at Bristol in March 2005.

  • Harvick led twice for 46 laps, including the final 45.

  • Carl Edwards (who finished second) has posted 13 consecutive top-5 finishes.

  • Justin Allgaier (fifth) posted his career-best finish. He was the highest-finishing rookie contender.

  • Chevrolet scored its 29th victory in 54 Bristol races.

  • The race featured 10 cautions for 62 laps.

  • The 16 lead changes were a record for Bristol.

  • Pole winner Brendan Gaughan finished 21st in his first Nationwide race at Bristol.

  • Kyle Busch, who led three times for 156 laps, had a tire violation on Lap 254 and restarted as the last car on the lead lap. He recovered to finish sixth.

  • Scott Speed (eighth) scored a top-10 finish in his second Nationwide race.

  • The top 10 consisted of two Fords, four Toyotas, three Chevrolets and one Dodge.

-- Racing Resources