As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series gets set to head to Phoenix International Raceway this weekend for the second stop of the West Coast Swing and the Camping World 500, we’ll take a step back in time for this week’s “Throwback Thursday Theater” to the 2007 running of the Subway Fresh Fit 500.
This time last year, fans, drivers, and media alike were all talking about Jimmie Johnson winning at Atlanta, tying the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. at 76 wins on the all-time wins list. 10 years ago, Johnson’s mentor, Jeff Gordon, accomplished that same feat at Phoenix, a track that he had never visited victory lane at.
Gordon started the 312 lap event on the pole and led the opening 28 laps, but as the race moved past halfway after Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick had led 70 and 54 laps, respectively, a new contender emerged in the orange No. 20 car of Tony Stewart.
Stewart took the lead for the first time on lap 155 and looked to be the man to beat over the second half of the race, leading 131 of the next 132 laps.
However, the turning point in the race came on lap 285, when the final caution of the night flew for an accident involving Dave Blaney, Kenny Wallace, and JJ Yeley.
Gordon was on pit road during a cycle of green flag pit stops when the caution flew, but as a result of his pit stall at the end of pit road, Gordon was able to complete his service and return to the track still on the lead lap.
As the remaining lead lap cars came down pit road under caution for their scheduled pit stops, Gordon was able to move to the lead ahead of Stewart and the others.
Over the final 26 laps, Gordon and Stewart would battle for the lead, with Stewart forcing his way by Gordon’s No. 24 car into the lead for one lap before Gordon was able to pass him right back and set sail to the checkered flag. Of the final 26 laps, Gordon would lead 25 of them and beat Stewart to the line by .697 seconds.
With the win, Gordon not only tied Earnhardt in wins, but also was able to finally check Phoenix off the list of the tracks he had won at.
As Gordon sat on the frontstretch after his win, his crew brought out a flag that they had been carrying since his 75th career win nearly a year prior. Of course, as everyone remembers, that flag that was unfurled and placed into Gordon’s car in honor of Earnhardt was a black flag with Earnhardt’s signature No. 3 on it.
“It means the world. Just to get a win at a track we’ve never won at before. I drove my guts out, never had to drive so hard for a win. I love racing Tony Stewart and Jimmie (Johnson) and all those guys we were racing there. Holding that ‘3’ flag, it certainly by no means saying I’m as good or we’re as good or even close, but I’ll tell you what, to honor him in that way, it really means a lot to me. I learned so much from him. To even come close to anything he’s ever done in this sport is amazing to me. We wanted to honor him. We’ve been holding onto that flag for a long time, but to get 76 is incredible.”
Once Gordon made his way to Victory Lane, one of the first drivers to greet him was none other than Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
“He said that was a class act. That means the world to me because we wanted to honor his father properly,” said Gordon of Earnhardt’s visit to victory lane.
After his Phoenix triumph, Gordon would go on to win another 17 races in the final decade of his career to bring his win total to 93, which places him third on the all-time wins list behind Richard Petty and David Pearson.