By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
Throughout his NASCAR career, Robby Gordon was never one to shy away from controversy and in June 2003 at Sonoma Raceway, his path to victory included a bit of controversy and a stellar battle with Jeff Gordon to see who would take home the trophy.
Robby Gordon, who last won on the Cup Series circuit back in November 2001 at New Hampshire, was one of the most feared drivers when it came to road course racing as he always found himself in the mix for the win when NASCAR’s premier division made both left and right turns.
After falling short on finally claiming a road course win, Gordon and his No. 31 team rolled into Sonoma with their eyes on the prize that would await them at the end of the day.
Rolling off from the outside of the front row, Robby made sure everyone knew he was going to be a force to reckoned with early in the event, taking over the lead at lap 2 and leading 50 of the next 78 laps. The only other driver to lead laps into the double digits aside from Gordon was road course ace Ron Fellows, who was piloting the No. 1 car for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
After dropping back in the field as a result of pit strategy, Gordon was running behind teammate Kevin Harvick when the caution flag flew on lap 72 for a spin by Christian Fittipaldi. Despite the yellow flag, Gordon made his move on Harvick through Turn 11 as they raced back to the line to move up in the running order, giving him the track position he needed to make his way back to the lead a short time later.
Though the move was perfectly legal under NASCAR rules at the time, many including Jeff Gordon and Harvick decried the move as breaking a “gentleman’s agreement” between the drivers.
Jeff Gordon couldn’t help himself with a little verbal jab at Robby after the race, saying: “I think Robby has got a little problem going faster under caution than he does under green.”
Despite the controversial move, Robby restarted back in fifth when the green flag flew again, picking his way through traffic and reclaiming the lead with 31 laps to go and never looking back.
Howver, the final run to the checkered flag was anything but easy as Jeff Gordon, who had moved into second place as the laps wound down, threw everything but the kitchen sink at Robby over the closing laps in an effort to get by him and claim the win for himself.
Jeff may have given Robby a run for his money, it was the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team that was celebrating at the end of the day, breaking a 52 race winless streak and handing Robby his first road course win.
“The car was pretty good at the end,” said Robby Gordon. “I was pacing myself off of Jeff. I just didn’t want him to be able to get close enough down there in (Turn) 11 and turn me because I remember what happened at Loudon and I know he owes me one. So we kind of paced our race off of him.
“It was a big race for us. To win here, it means a lot. We let this race slip away probably four times in the past. We stuck to a plan and it worked good all day.”
Following the two Gordons across the line was Harvick in third, along with Bill Elliott, Ryan Newman, Boris Said, Ron Fellows, Rusty Wallace, Bobby Labonte, and Jeremy Mayfield to round out the top-10.
“On this race track, it’s really hard to pass,” said Jeff Gordon. “We were faster than him and he was kind of blocking, which he needed to do and it was a good move. My hat’s off to him and the Richard Childress team. They did what they needed to do. They had the track position…He drove the wheels off the car and I did everything I could to get by him. That’s all we had for him.
“Great points day and I had to keep that in mind. Robby’s pretty hungry at these road course races. There was a couple of times where I could have made some moves on him, but it was very iffy. As aggressive as Robby is, you want to be careful when you’re going for a championship.”