As the 21st Century dawned on NASCAR, three-time Cup Champion Jeff Gordon was going through something he hadn’t really experienced since his rookie year in 1993. A rough patch.
In 2000, his first full season with a crew chief not named Ray Evernham (he was paired with Robbie Loomis), Gordon and the No. 24 team entered the April 16 DieHard 500 at Talladega seeking to end a 13-race winless streak. Gordon also only had one top-five finish in that stretch, finishing fourth in the race before at Martinsville.
He didn’t get off to the best start in Talladega, qualifying 36th.
But Gordon would lead six times in the 188-lap event for a total of 25 laps. He would take the lead for good with six laps left with a pass of Mark Martin that took Gordon to the apron of the track near the entrance to pit road. It’s a move that would be made illegal at superspeedways in the ensuing years.
Gordon beat Mike Skinner, who earned his career-best finish and last top five, and Dale Earnhardt, who was in the midst of winning three of four Talladega races, including his final Cup win later that year. Rounding out the top five were Kenny Irwin Jr., who earned his final top five before his death less than three months later and Jimmy Spencer.
The victory was Gordon’s 50th on the Cup circuit.
“We qualified horrible, but the second we got out there on the race track the DuPont Chevrolet was really, really good,” Gordon told ABC Sports in Victory Lane. “I told these guys if we can just stay out of trouble and be real patient we’ll work our way to the front. And it took a while. … I learned from the best, Earnhardt. I didn’t want to see him come up through there because he’s the toughest guy there is to race with at these places because he’s so good with the air. Learned a lot of things from him and they paid off today.”
Also on this date:
1964: After an early one-car incident put him a lap down in a race at Columbia (S.C.) Speedway, Ned Jarrett roared back to the lead lap, took the lead on Lap 137 and began lapping the field. He beat Marvin Panch by one lap.
1967: Darel Dieringer, driving for Junior Johnson, won at North Wilkesboro after leading all 400 laps from the pole. It was Dieringer’s seventh and final Grand National Series win.
1972: In his first career start for Wood Brothers Racing, David Pearson led 202 of 293 laps from the pole and scored the win at Darlington by one lap over Richard Petty. It was Pearson’s first win in 14 starts and his first speedway win in two seasons.
1989: In the official debut of Goodyear’s radial-ply tires, Dale Earnhardt won at North Wilkesboro over Alan Kulwicki and Mark Martin. The introduction of the radial tires had been aborted during Speedweeks in Daytona following crashes by Earnhardt and Bill Elliott that were blamed on tire failures, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.”