Alan Cavanna

Evernham's pit call earned Gordon's first win

May 24, 2014, Alan Cavanna,

Two-tire stop sparked two NASCAR Hall of Fame-worthy careers

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CONCORD, N.C. -- The call in the pits that helped jump-start a legendary career has become more legendary with time.
It was 20 years ago this weekend that Jeff Gordon, then in his second year in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, won his first career race in the Coca-Cola 600. Gordon had a quality car, but the win likely would not have come without a strategic, two-tire pit call on the race's final stop.
Gordon's crew chief that night, Ray Evernham, made the call to go for two tires. The decision was hardly spur of the moment. Rather, it was the result of careful preparation during an earlier practice session.
"We decided to try a run on two tires," Evernham said, discussing his race-winning decision on Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "We came in, made some changes, an air pressure change, filled it up with fuel and sent him out. And we were really good, maybe within two-tenths of a second from if we would've changed four tires."

Evernham said the practice experiment showed him the car could run without major fall-off for around 15 laps. And that's the near-exact scenario that he and his driver found themselves in 1994.
Rusty Wallace dominated the night, leading 187 of the race's 400 laps. With the race winding down, it was the No. 2 team that others would follow to determine their final strategy. If Wallace took fuel only, others would likely have to do the same. But if Wallace chose four tires, others could potentially gamble with two.
With just more than 20 laps to go, Wallace and his team made a four-tire stop. Geoff Bodine, running second, did the same. That left an opportunity for Gordon, who was running third.
"So we waited until about 18 laps to go," Evernham said. "We pitted and took the two tires and came out ahead of Rusty. And I thought, 'There's no way he can make that up in 18 laps if the caution doesn't come out.'"
Ricky Rudd was the final car among the leaders to pit. When he turned in with nine laps to go, it gave Gordon the lead.
"Rusty gained on us for the first three or four laps, but Jeff started to stretch him," Evernham said, "So (the two tires) actually made our car a little better for a while. I think we ended up winning by a bigger margin than we gained."
After the race, Wallace admitted to being caught off-guard by the No. 24 team's strategy and driver behind the wheel.

"We never dreamed he'd do it," Wallace told television reporters after the race. "We never even considered him, to tell you the truth. We were racing (Bodine)."
The two-tire call helped spark a NASCAR Hall of Fame-worthy career Gordon that now includes 89 wins and four championships. Twenty years after his first victory, Gordon currently leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings and has likely secured a spot in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with a win at Kansas Speedway.
Evernham is a future NASCAR Hall of Famer in his own right, and his path to Glory Road started with calls like the one he made in Charlotte 20 years ago. It wasn't the first two-tire call in NASCAR history. But after two decades, it seems to have become the most memorable.
Evernham laughs when he's told that the more time passes, the smarter the call looks.
"It's great that it's urban legend," he says. "But there's probably 100 guys that have won 'em on two tires."