New crew chief Brian Whitesell made the right call at the right time and Jeff Gordon found himself in the winner's circle once again.
Whitesell, who replaced master crew chief Ray Evernham last Wednesday on the Hendrick Motorsports team, gambled and won today's NAPA AutoCare 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Fifteen laps from the end of the 500-lap race on the tight half-mile oval, all of the leaders except Gordon pitted for fresh tires under the last of eight caution flags.
"Jeff makes a decision like that easy to make," said Whitesell, a picture of calm and confidence in the aftermath of his first race in charge of the team that has won three of the last four NASCAR Winston Cup championships.
Asked why he made that decision, Whitesell--who had been the team's engineer and was Evernham's hand-picked successor--said, "Track position. That's always important."
"We knew if we got back in the pack it was not going to be a good thing," he said. "We had nothing to lose. We either win the race or finish about fifth."
Gordon, who has a series-high six victories this season, made the gamble work, pulling away on the restart on Lap 482 and holding off hard-charging Dale Earnhardt by less than two car-lengths at the end. Gordon, who averaged 72.624 mph, led only twice for a total of 29 laps. The first time he led was on Lap 416, but Kenny Wallace took over the top spot four laps later and Earnhardt passed him for the lead on Lap 431. Geoff Bodine finished third.