By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
The 2001 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season started off with profound loss, but also ushered in an era of unprecedented growth for the series as they made their way to new markets and new tracks later in the year. One of those new tracks/markets was Kansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile intermediate oval just outside of Kansas City that would make its debut in September 2001.
Jason Leffler and points leader Jeff Gordon would start on the front row, but it wouldn’t take long for things to start to get interesting.
On lap one, four cars, including Casey Atwood, John Andretti, Ricky Craven, and Jimmy Spencer, would tangle in Turn 2 to bring out the first of 13 caution flags on the day.
While dodging all of the yellow flags, Gordon and Rusty Wallace led for the majority of the day, with Wallace showing the way up front late in the going, having led 117 laps to Gordon’s 31. However, when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. blew a tire and hit the wall on lap 230, the leaderboard would be in for a bit of a shakeup.
Under caution, Wallace was called for speeding on pit road, dropping him from the lead to 17th and handing the lead over to Ricky Rudd, with Mark Martin restarting in second, and Gordon back to third. Martin led the first lap back under green, but it was Gordon that used a daring pass on the frontstretch apron to power his way back to the lead with 22 laps to go, taking over the top spot for the fifth and final time.
Shortly after Gordon took over the lead, a vicious crash broke out in Turn 2 between Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett, with both cars making hard impact with the outside wall. Labonte was able to drive away, but Jarrett wasn’t as lucky. Safety crews went to work on extricating Jarrett, who had momentarily been knocked unconscious by the impact.
Minutes later, Jarrett would emerge from his car and walked to the ambulance with assistance from the safety workers. Instead of the normal trip to the Infield Care Center, Jarrett was immediately taken to a local hospital for observation.
When the race went back to green with 12 laps to go, Rudd did his best to try and keep up with Gordon, but the No. 24 car was just too much for him as he easily held onto the lead until the final caution flag flew for pole sitter Leffler and Terry Labonte on the frontstretch with 10 laps remaining.
NASCAR would red flag the race in order to get a green flag finish, but even then it was still all Gordon over the final six laps as he held on for the win. Ryan Newman finished second, followed by Rudd in third. Wallace rebounded to finish fourth and Sterling Marlin rounded out the top-five.
The win for Gordon was his sixth of the season, but more importantly helped to stem the bleeding in the points after he had lost more than 11 points to Rudd in the previous two races. Leaving Kansas with a points lead of 222, Gordon never looked back as he led the way the rest of the year en route to his fourth and final championship.
“What an awesome day for the Dupont Chevrolet team,” said Gordon. “We had a good car. Top two or three all day long. I hate it for Rusty. That was a tough break for him. He had the car to beat. I think we had something for him there though. We just hung right onto his bumper that one time and if we could have gotten out in front of him, we would have had something for him.”
“What a great day. Just want to thank God for all the adversity this team has come through over the last year and a half. I want to thank DuPont and all the folks that really make this possible for us: Quaker State, GMAC, Pepsi, Frito’s, and Delphi. It’s just a great organization at Hendrick Motorsports and we’re just so proud of this race team.”
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