Jeff Gordon earns first win of 2014, barely beats Kevin Harvick to finish line at Kansas

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Scratch Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon off the list of winless drivers in 2014.

Gordon became the first three-time winner at Kansas Speedway, capturing Saturday night’s 5-Hour Energy 400 Benefitting Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

“This is so sweet,” Gordon said. “What a huge weight lifted off this team’s shoulder. We’ve been leading the points, but we needed to get to victory lane and they proved they were capable of doing that. Great, great job by them (his team). … We’ve been building up to this all season long.”

Gordon, who previously won the first two Sprint Cup races at the 1.5-mile track in 2001 and 2002 becomes the ninth different winner in this season’s first 11 races. It was his first win since at Martinsville last fall.

Gordon won his 89th career Sprint Cup race, holding off a late charge from runner-up Kevin Harvick. Gordon beat Harvick to the finish line by less than two car lengths.

“I knew he had a fast race car,” Gordon said. “We’ve been bringing fast race cars every single weekend. It’s just given me so much confidence in the race cars and the race team.

“Kevin was tough. He was so strong. I did not know if I could hold him off at the end. … He was just coming. Luckily, I got the checkered flag.”

Harvick led the most laps, nearly half of the 267-lap race, with 119 laps in front of the pack. Gordon, meanwhile, led just nine, including taking over the lead for good eight laps from the finish.

“We slipped there with about 10 or 11 laps left to go and lost all the ground I made up, but I made it all back up again,” Harvick said. “It was a weird night, but I’m proud of everybody on this team.”

Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Kasey Kahne, earned his best and first top-five finish of the season, winding up third, followed by outside polesitter Joey Logano in fouth and another HMS teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., in fifth.

“We were really close,” Kahne said. “I had a really good car, it was fun to race up front. I passed cars and raced hard all night long. … And Jeff Gordon won, so it was a great night for Hendrick Motorsports.”

In fact, HMS drivers finished in three of the top five and all four were in the top nine.

Sixth through 10th were Carl Edwards, Danica Patrick earned the best finish of her Sprint Cup career by finishing seventh, followed by Aric Almirola, HMS driver and defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson in ninth and Matt Kenseth in 10th.

Kyle Larson was the highest-finishing rookie, ending up in 12th place.

The start of the race was delayed slightly to let a passing storm cell pass by the racetrack. And while local radar showed additional storms in the area, the rest of the race was not affected.

There were eight caution periods that slowed traffic for 47 laps, with one brutal wreck primarily involving David Gilliland, AJ Allmendinger and Justin Allgaier on Lap 187.

Allgaier’s car was tapped in the rear, sending him directly into the path of Gilliland’s car, which hit the outside retaining wall almost head-on.

Gilliland’s car was destroyed, with the front end crumpled almost to the bottom of the windshield, and the rear part of the car all but obliterated. Virtually all that was left with some semblance of recognizability was the driver compartment.

Gilliland was helped from the car and walked with assistance to the waiting ambulance, while Allmendinger and Allgaier appeared to be uninjured.

On Lap 60, David Ragan, Ryan Truex, Michael Annett and Landon Cassill were involved in a wreck, leaving all of them with significant damage.

Kurt Busch struggled, with a pair of solo spins in the race. While his Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet suffered minimal damage, it appeared he battled handling problems much of the race, resulting in his 29th place finish.

Also of note, making the first Sprint Cup start of his career, Ryan Blaney – son of veteran racer Dave Blaney – finished 27th.

Here’s the final finishing order in Saturday’s 5-Hour Energy 400:

1 Jeff Gordon

2 Kevin Harvick

3 Kasey Kahne

4 Joey Logano

5 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

6 Carl Edwards

7 Danica Patrick

8 Aric Almirola

9 Jimmie Johnson

10 Matt Kenseth

 

11 Ryan Newman

12 Kyle Larson

13 Brad Keselowski

14 Brian Vickers

15 Kyle Busch

16 Greg Biffle

17 Paul Menard

18 Denny Hamlin

19 Austin Dillon

20 Tony Stewart

 

21 Martin Truex Jr.

22 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

23 Clint Bowyer

24 Marcos Ambrose

25 Michael Annett

26 Casey Mears

27 Ryan Blaney

28 Cole Whitt

29 Kurt Busch

30 AJ Allmendinger

 

31 Joe Nemechek

32 Reed Sorenson

33 Josh Wise

34 Travis Kvapil

35 Alex Bowman

36 Justin Allgaier

37 David Gilliland

38 David Ragan

39 Jamie McMurray

40 Timmy Hill

 

41 J.J. Yeley

42 Landon Cassill

43 Ryan Truex

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April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

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Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994