Jeff Gordon drove his No. 24 Chevrolet to the front three times Sunday, leading a combined 100 of the 315 laps in the Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Still no checkered flag, though.
Gordon failed to finish the job for the 12th straight stop in Phoenix, one of only four tracks where he has yet to post a win. The others are Chicagoland Speedway, Homestead-Miami and Texas Motor Speedway.
Gordon battled handling problems most of the day but still managed to climb to the front after qualifying eighth.
“I got loose getting in (corners) and really couldn't do much about it,” he said. “We just hung on there and then made a few adjustments and the car was better.”
Part of Gordon's handling problems were due to some banging courtesy of Kevin Harvick early in the race.
“He pounded me all the way down the front straight,” Gordon said. “He pounded me into Turn 1 and about wrecked me there.”
Gordon held the lead for the final time during laps 228-303, but Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Chevrolet was too strong. Earnhardt powered on by and Ryan Newman also passed Gordon, who settled for third.
“I thought I could hold off Ryan there at the end,” Gordon said. “But we’ll take third today.”
JUST FOR FUN
Kasey Kahne didn't think his bumping and banging with Harvick on Sunday was all that big of a deal.
“We rubbed down there,'' said Kahne, who finished fifth, just behind Harvick. “I rubbed him and waved at him, just kind of a fun thing. We did the same thing (Saturday), and he blasted me a couple of times, so I think he thought I was mad at him. But I really wasn't. I think it was all just in fun.''
Following the checkered flag, the two came together on pit road and stopped for a chat.
“We were just racing hard at the end there," Harvick said. “I got into him a little bit, and I think it ticked him off. He started running into us after the (last) caution so I wanted to stop and ask him what the problem was."
Neither driver was called to the NASCAR hauler after the race.
Mark Martin, who finished second in Atlanta last week to get back in the run for the championship, figured to have a good chance in Phoenix considering he had 13 top-10 finishes at PIR. But Martin, who spun out during one near-pileup in Turn 4, faded to 15th and now sits fifth, 102 points behind leader Kurt Busch with two races remaining.
Earnhardt's sixth Nextel Cup victory of the season came with some points of interest. Earnhardt led a race-high 118 laps, which earned him five bonus points for leading and five points for leading the most laps. Gordon (100 laps), Newman (59) Elliott Sadler (16), Matt Kenseth (four) and Bobby Labonte (four) also earned five bonus points each for leading.
Earnhardt became the third driver to win two races in Phoenix since NASCAR starting coming to Phoenix International Raceway 17 years ago. Jeff Burton (2000 and 2001) and the late Davey Allison (1991 and 1992) are the other two.
Earnhardt's 15th career win moved him into a tie with Ernie Irvan for 40th on NASCAR's all-time wins list. Twelve of his wins have come on superspeedways, the other three have come at Phoenix (twice) and Richmond (once).
Sunday's race was run under 11 caution flags for 63 of the 315 laps (including two “overtime'' laps).. . .
A Chevrolet won for the 21st time in 34 races this year, besting Ford (nine) and Dodge (four). All-time, Chevrolet now leads Ford 555-553 in all-time victories, dating back to 1949. Earnhardt's back-to-back wins give Chevrolet four wins in Phoenix. Ford leads the pack with 11 while Pontiac has two.