Gordon gets historic victory

4-21-07 -- A little luck helped Jeff Gordon to a historic win Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway.

The four-time NASCAR champion tied the late Dale Earnhardt for sixth place on the career victory list with 76, winning for the first time since last July.

After ending the 26-race victory drought, Gordon stopped to pick up a flag bearing Earnhardt's famed No. 3 and black, red and white color scheme for his slow victory lap around the mile oval.

``It means the world,'' Gordon said. ``Holding that 3 flag, it's certainly by no means saying we're as good as him. I learned so much from him. We wanted to honor him. We've been holding onto that flag for a long time.''

One of the first drivers to congratulate Gordon in Victory Circle was Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Gordon started from the pole and led early, but he spent most of the 312-lap race following Tony Stewart, who appeared to be on the way to an easy victory.

As the leaders began a series of green-flag pit stops late in the race, Gordon drove onto pit road at the end of lap 283. As he drove slowly toward his pit at the end of pit road, a three-car crash brought out the yellow flag.

The timing was perfect for Gordon, who was able to finish his pit stop and head back toward the track before leader Stewart came back to the finish line, thereby keeping Gordon on the lead lap.

When all the other leaders pitted under the caution flag, Gordon stayed on track and took the lead.

Once the green flag came back out on lap 294, Stewart tried desperately to regain the top spot. As Gordon struggled to get by Martin Truex Jr., who had pitted before the yellow and was on the end of the lead lap, Stewart saw his chance.

On lap 299, Stewart squeezed his No. 20 Chevrolet between Gordon and Truex and somehow drove to the lead. But Gordon wouldn't quit, staying on Stewart's rear bumper and then driving under him to regain the lead for good on lap 300.

Gordon pulled away to finish about six car-lengths ahead at the finish, earning his first win at Phoenix. That leaves only Homestead and Texas as active tracks where Gordon hasn't won.