KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — At any age, Jeff Gordon sure knows how to win.
Nearly two decades after he burst onto the scene with his first victory, Gordon keeps taking checkered flags, storming to the lead in the final laps at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night for his first victory of the season and 89th overall in NASCAR’s top series.
The 42-year-old Gordon held off a hard-charging Kevin Harvick on the final lap to move into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field.
Gordon won for the first time since October at Martinsville and became the ninth driver to win in the first 11 races this season. He entered the race with the points lead, but exclaimed a weight was lifted off his shoulders as he crossed the finish line for his third Kansas victory.
“I’m just so proud of (the 24 team). They have been giving me the best race cars all year long,” Gordon said. “I have been having so much fun. I’m going to be 43 this year and I feel like I’m 25 again. That is the way they make me feel.”
Kasey Kahne was third, followed by Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Danica Patrick was seventh for her best career Cup finish.
Gordon built his points lead on the strength of four top-fives and seven top-10s in the first 10 races — including second-place finishes at Texas and Richmond — but he knew how much one win would ease pressure on his Hendrick Motorsports team.
He got it under the lights at Kansas.
“This is so sweet,” he said. “What a huge weight lifted off this team’s shoulders. We needed to get to Victory Lane.”
Gordon is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his first career Cup victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the prestigious Coca-Cola 600. He will go for his fourth Coca-Cola 600 victory May 25.
At Daytona this year, Gordon insisted he was serious about considering retirement with a fifth championship. He looks every bit a title contender — but said he feels like he could race until 50 if his cars are this stout.
“The whole retirement thing I think is thrown out too much,” he said. “I know I’m somewhat to blame for that.”
After the start of the race was delayed 35 minutes by rain, the first Sprint Cup night race at Kansas soon left drivers in the dark after the lights went out on the backstretch. NASCAR polled drivers if they wanted to continue and they were good to go, with Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards among the many who said the track was bright enough to race.