Setting Records at Talladega Superspeedway
A record-setting weekend at Talladega Superspeedway saw Jeff Gordon pass a racing legend on the all-time victory list, and Bobby Labonte return to Victory Lane for the first time in two years.
The Aaron's Dream Weekend began Friday with 19-year-old, part-time NASCAR Busch Series driver Brad Coleman winning the pole position for the Aaron's 312 less than a week after his grandfather passed away.
"To get this pole, I have to dedicate it to him," Coleman said. "I definitely had a guardian angel out there with me, and he was helping push that car from behind."
On Saturday, Jeff Gordon won the Bud Pole for the Aaron's 499 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race, the first time in his career that he had captured the pole position at Talladega Superspeedway. Gordon's fast-lap speed of 192.069 mph actually was matched by David Gilliland, but Gordon was awarded the Bud Pole based on his first-place standing in the points.
"It's just amazing that on a 2.66-mile track, with the wind and everything else that comes into play, that a Ford and Chevy could run that close," Gilliland said. "It's pretty wild."
Wild was a good word to describe that day's Busch Series race. There were 36 lead changes in the race among a total of 20 different drivers. Both marks were records for a Busch Series event.
"I think I passed three times the amount of cars that started the race," said Tony Stewart, who finished second in the race to Labonte.
It appeared Stewart was headed for his first victory in any series at Talladega Superspeedway, but he was passed on the outside by Labonte - his former NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing - as the cars came off Turn 4 on the final lap.
The victory was Labonte's first since winning a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway in April 2005, and his first Busch Series victory since 1998.
"Coming down through the tri-oval, I thought, 'Well, I could push Tony to the win or I could try it myself,' " Labonte said. "I went to the right side, and it just slowed him down. I was like, 'Dude, that was a good move.' "
Afterward, Stewart gave Labonte a big hug in Victory Lane.
"That's probably the happiest I've ever been to run second and lose a race in my life," Stewart said.
Finally, on Sunday, Jeff Gordon battled back from 14th place with only 10 laps to go to win the Aaron's 499.
"Realistically, I didn't think we were going to (win)," Gordon said. "I would have been happy just to finish in the top-10. I didn't feel like I was going to be anywhere close to the front. But I knew we had a strong car."
The victory was the 77th in Gordon's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup career, moving him past the late Dale Earnhardt and into sole possession of sixth place on the all-time victory list.
"It's hard for me to really put into perspective 77 wins and this whole day and the career that I've had," Gordon said. "I'm just thrilled to death to drive for (car owner Rick Hendrick). I want to appreciate it and enjoy it, and I also want to keep it going."
The racing excitement at Talladega Superspeedway will resume Oct. 5-7 with the running of three races: the UAW-Ford 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race, the Mountain Dew 250 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Race and the ARCA RE/MAX Series 250. For ticket information call 1-877-Go2DEGA.