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Gordon's championship hopes tumble at Talladega

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Jeff Gordon's championship hopes took a
hit Sunday when the four-time NASCAR champion got caught up in an
11-car crash midway through the UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega
Superspeedway.

Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports crew managed to get his battered
No. 24 Chevrolet back on track to make up a few places and scavenge
a few extra points later in the race, but Gordon still wound up
36th, his second straight finish near the bottom of the field.

"You know what, I've said all along if it's meant to be, it's
meant to be, and it just doesn't seem meant to be for the DuPont
Chevrolet," said Gordon, who fell from sixth to seventh and trails
series leader Jeff Burton by 147 points with six races remaining in
the Chase for the Championship.

"We'll just go out and race now. We've got some great tracks
coming up," added Gordon, who had one of the fastest cars Sunday,
leading a race-high 27 laps before the wreck on lap 138 of 188.

It could have been a lot worse for Gordon, though, without some
misfortune by the drivers ahead of him in the points. In the end,
he lost only 27 points to the series leader.

Burton was fifth before he had to pit with a flat tire just 11
laps from the end. He wound up 27th.

And Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson were on their way to a
finish at or near the front until Brian Vickers, the eventual
winner, knocked Johnson into leader Earnhardt on the last lap and
the two of them spun off the track. Earnhardt wound up 23rd and
Johnson 24th, and they are now sixth and eighth, respectively, in
the points.

Johnson, who now trails Burton by 156 points, said, "I can't
believe that happened. I had a great chance to make up some points
and I got wrecked by a teammate."

Meanwhile, Burton's bad luck tightened up the top of the point
standings considerably.

Matt Kenseth finished second, Mark Martin eighth and Kevin Harvick, Burton's Richard Childress Racing teammate, survived the
big crash to finish sixth. Those four are now separated by just 33
points heading to Martinsville next Sunday.

Denny Hamlin, who started the day in second place, actually
gained 18 points on Burton but fell all the way to fifth place
after being involved in two crashes and finishing 21st. He now
trails the leader by 51 points.

Kasey Kahne wound up second and Kyle Busch 11th, but it didn't
do either one of them much good after their problems earlier in the
Chase. The two youngsters remain at the bottom of the Chase
standings, now tied for ninth, 185 points behind Burton.