Beer busted: Gordon wins, Talladega fans hurl
Jeff Gordon passed Dale Earnhardt on the all-time win list with a victory at Talladega. A few fans proved to be big losers after the race, writes Terry Blount.
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- When the yellow flag flew to end the Aaron's 499 with Jeff Gordon in front, a crowd of 175,000 people was strangely silent.
Except, of course, for the few numbskulls who decided to practice the shot put.
The only sound was beer cans whistling through the air as they flew over the catch fence before crashing down on the track.
The worst nightmare for most of the Talladega fans came true. Gordon moved one spot ahead of their hero, Dale Earnhardt, on the all-time victory list, and he did it on what would have been Earnhardt's 56th birthday.
Comedian Jeff Foxworthy, the grand marshal for the race, has a new line for his routine: "If you hate the winner and throw your beer on the track, you might be a redneck."
Career victory No. 77 for Gordon came one week after he tied Earnhardt at 76 with a win at Phoenix. Gordon held a No. 3 flag on his victory lap last week, which also brought a spray of fan debris and a chorus of boos.
Gordon knew it was coming again at the virtual Earnhardt shrine, the place where "The Intimidator" won 10 times for the fans who worshiped him.
"It's tough," Gordon said. "I knew three-quarters of these fans were against me. I didn't want to start a riot today, but I wanted to break that record. I really didn't think it would come here. It's just an unbelievable day."
|With career win No. 77 in hand, Jeff Gordon claimed sole possession of sixth place on the all-time wins list. Next stop for Gordon? Cale Yarborough and 83 wins.|
The time was right for Gordon, and timing was everything Sunday. Four laps before the scheduled finish, Gordon passed Jamie McMurray for the lead seconds before a caution flew after David Reutimann blew and engine.
That set up a one-shot overtime restart at a green-white-checkered finish. Gordon kept the top spot at the green as drivers jostled behind to try to make a move.
Gordon was still in front heading into Turn 3 when cars began wrecking behind him. The caution came out and the race was over. NASCAR makes only one attempt at an overtime finish.
The day was ruined for the Earnhardt lovers.
"We had so many things working against us today," said Gordon, who started on the pole. "I never dreamed we would have a chance to win at the end. We had so many people to pass."
Gordon was 14th in a single-file line with nine laps left in regulation. He got some drafting help from teammate Jimmie Johnson -- who finished second -- as they moved out of line with eight laps left.
Gordon was not in front when Reutimann's engine blew. NASCAR didn't throw a caution when Reutimann's car started bellowing smoke.
The caution came a lap later, moments after Gordon moved to the front, when oil and debris from Reutimann's car was spotted on the track.
No doubt the conspiracy theorists will question the timing of the call. Gordon finds it laughable.
"If NASCAR ever wanted to fix a race, you would think they would lean toward the majority," Gordon said. "I love the passion of the fans, but you have to use common sense."
Gordon didn't use much common sense when he drove around the track after the win and did a burnout out of Turn 4. That brought another shower of cans, some of which landed on Gordon's No. 24 Chevy.
"It probably was a bad decision looking back on it," Gordon said. "It did sort of egg people on."
Gordon then drove to Victory Lane as quickly as he could to avoid the barrage.
Johnson is tired of seeing it.
"It's terrible," Johnson said. "They are going to hurt someone. I'm sure some cans don't make it on the track. They could hit a kid in the back of the head. That's not a way to show you support our sport. I don't know the logic behind it. I just hope it goes away."
In fairness, the vast majority of the crowd behaved themselves. The Talladega spectators reacted far worse three years ago when Gordon won and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second.
This time, they were warned. Track president Grant Lynch told the fans before the race that anyone throwing debris on the track would be arrested.
Some of the folks who didn't listen, or didn't care, were handcuffed and escorted out by police officers while Gordon and his team celebrated in Victory Lane.
The typical sea of red No. 8 shirts at Talladega were hoping to see Earnhardt Jr. win on his father's birthday. But Junior settled for seventh on a day when he knew his No. 8 Chevy wasn't a winning ride.
"We struggled to run up front," Earnhardt said. "We stretched it on fuel at the end and were able to move up. We made it work and got some points."
Earnhardt had no problem with Gordon passing his father on the win list. On Friday, he said he hoped fans wouldn't react angrily if Gordon won. And if they had to throw something, throw toilet paper.
A few rolls came down, but beer cans were the weapon of the moment.
"I thought Junior had more power than that," Gordon said. "Look, I know a lot people here didn't want to see this happen, but I came here to win."
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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