With NASCAR invading New England for the second race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, another edition of “Throwback Thursday Theater” is upon us.
As we look back at races from New Hampshire’s past, this week’s focus is on the 2001 New Hampshire 300, a race that featured a great battle for the win between two Gordons, Jeff Gordon and Robby Gordon, leaving one ecstatic with the win and the other fuming at what might have been.
The race was originally scheduled for Sunday, September 16th, but due to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11th, the race was postponed to the Friday after Thanksgiving and the race weekend was condensed into a one day show.
With no qualifying, the field was set by owner points as of the original race date, meaning Jeff Gordon, who had already clinched the 2001 championship to give him four Cup Series titles, would start on pole, with Ricky Rudd alongside.
As many would expect for a November day in New England, the temperatures were expected to be cold, which led Goodyear to bring a softer compound for their tire for added grip on the cold track. However, the temperatures that day were warmer than many, including Goodyear, was expecting and the higher temperatures played havoc with the softer tires that Goodyear had brought and led to tire issues throughout the day.
For the majority of the race, it was the Jeff Gordon show, as the newly minted series champion had led 253 of the first 280 laps, an absolute domination up until that point in the race. Well, that’s when things really got interesting.
Robby Gordon, who was driving the No. 31 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing in just his 10th start with the team after replacing Mike Skinner, was beginning to make his presence known on track and took the lead from Sterling Marlin on lap 281. The key for Gordon was the tires that his team was running on that day in November. Most of the other teams were running the softer tire that Goodyear had brought for use at New Hampshire, but Gordon’s crew chief Gil Martin had decided to bring a harder tire that had been used at Martinsville earlier in the season and the Martinsville tires gave the team a leg up on the competition as they were able to avoid the tire issues that plagued several other drivers.
As Robby Gordon was in the lead on lap 281, Jeff Gordon took the lead back on the following lap as the two Gordons would duel for the lead for another three laps. With Jeff ahead of Robby on lap 285, Robby got into the back of Jeff’s No. 24 car, sending him into Jeremy Mayfield’s No. 12 car. Mayfield got the worst of the deal as he went for a spin, but Jeff Gordon’s car also sustained some significant damage, leaving the four-time champion furious.
Of course, Jeff Gordon was not going to let the contact go unanswered as he drove straight into the rear of the No. 31 car under caution to show his displeasure with the move. NASCAR didn’t think too highly of the retaliation and parked Jeff Gordon for a lap, leaving him to finish 15th on the day.
“See, everybody thought that you couldn’t make me mad. You can make me mad; anybody can, but that No. 31 certainly did today. He should be embarrassed to win that race. It was going to be a heck of a battle. I mean, it was between me and him anyway, you know. I just wish it would’ve been done fair and square instead of just knocking a guy out of the way. We had some lapped traffic to go through and you’ve got to be patient. I don’t care if there are 15 laps to go, you’ve got to know how to be patient and it just didn’t happen that way,” Jeff Gordon said with a smile after the race.
Meanwhile, there was still a race win to be settled and Robby Gordon was not going to be denied as he held off Sterling Marlin over the final 15 laps to score his first Cup Series win and the first win for the Richard Childress Racing No. 31 team.
“Jeff slowed down because the No. 12 got sideways and I got into him. I wouldn’t wreck him unless it was the last lap and I thought we were going to have a good enough car. He got sideways when I got to him and I’m a little disappointed. I would have rather raced him clean,” Robby Gordon said.
“We would have had a good battle and it would have been a great finish for the fans. It’s just amazing how many fans came out to see us race on Thanksgiving weekend. That’s just unbelievable. I really want to thank Richard Childress and all of the guys for believing in me and giving me the opportunity. It’s been a long time since I’ve won a race and to do it at a somewhat of a short track in a Winston Cup car makes me really happy.”