Gordon can make history with another road-course victory

August 13th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Gordon can make history with another road-course victory


WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Jeff Gordon once made it seem so easy on NASCAR's road courses. Hop behind the wheel of his rainbow-colored No. 24 Dupont Chevy and humble the other 42 drivers in the field.

Gordon has won a Nextel Cup-record nine road races since 1997, and the first six came in succession -- three at Watkins Glen and three at Sonoma through 2000.
He has tallied only three victories in the past six years, including a win at Sonoma in June.

Maybe it wasn't so easy after all.
If Gordon wins Sunday's AMD at The Glen, he will tie the late Dale Earnhardt -- the man who dubbed Gordon "Wonder Boy" -- with 76 career victories. It's the sixth-highest total in NASCAR history.

"Even when we were winning here, we were still being challenged," said Gordon, who will start on the outside of the second row. "This is definitely a racetrack that we run well at, but there's other guys that run well here, guys that you wouldn't typically think would run well on road courses can run well here because it's so fast."
Kurt Busch won his second straight road course pole at 122.966 mph Friday and Kasey Kahne qualified second.

In the final practice Saturday, Tony Stewart, who qualified eighth, had the fastest lap, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Canadian road race ace Ron Fellows. Rookie Denny Hamlin was ninth, Busch was 13th, and Kahne 26th as several drivers slid off course trying to find more speed.

Stewart is Gordon's chief rival on the road circuits. He has won three of the past four races at Watkins Glen and twice at Sonoma.

"Success on a road course breeds success," said Stewart, who led a record 83 of 92 laps last year to complete a sweep of the road races, then went on to capture his second series title. "If you have some success on a road course, you're probably going to like racing there. If you don't have success on a road course, it's probably a style of racing you're not going to like."

Gordon entered this season with only one road win and two top 10s since 2002. And despite six top 5s and seven top 10s in 13 starts at Watkins Glen, Gordon's last win on the 11-turn, 2.45-mile layout was five years ago.

Since 2001, when he won his fourth and last Cup title, Gordon has just one top 20 finish at Watkins Glen. That was last year, when he finished 14th to Stewart after a flat tire and a penalty for pitting too soon under caution.

In 2002, a loose-handling car forced Gordon to make a late pit stop and he finished 22nd. The next year, he set a track record in winning the pole. Spun out on the first turn of the 90-lap race by rookie Greg Biffle, Gordon raced all the way from last to third, then ran out of fuel on the final lap and failed to finish when Kevin Harvick and Earnhardt Jr. hit him in rapid succession coming out of the final turn. In 2004, Gordon had transmission problems and finished 21st.

"We've created a lot of our own situations here the last couple of years," Gordon said. "We've really worked hard to make sure those things don't happen again.The only way we're going to have a shot at winning is to make sure we're there at the end with the car in one piece."

Gordon did that in June at Sonoma. After running off course during qualifying, he won from the 11th starting spot.

"Obviously, we're carrying momentum from Sonoma, and this is a great race car," Gordon said. "Watkins Glen has always been one of those tracks where it's much more competitive."

Since NASCAR installed its playoff system three years ago, both road races come in the leadup to the Chase for the Championship, where the top 10 drivers and anyone within 400 points of the leader qualify to race for the title over the final 10 events.
Kahne has proved a fast learner since his first lap around Watkins Glen in the rain three years ago in a rental van. Kahne, who wants to make the Chase for the first time, is 11th in points, only 73 behind Hamlin, who is seventh. Within 15 points of one another are Gordon, Stewart and Earnhardt in spots 8-10.

"I'd like to think we can stay up there," said Kahne, who was in the top 10 at Sonoma before a flat tire late dropped him to 31st. "We've had some brake problems here. We definitely need to be concerned and make sure we finish the race, leave here with a decent run. If we don't, we're going to be in trouble."

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