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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March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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