February 2003 Random News

The Retooling Effort
DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (February 18)- - When Jeff Gordon and Robbie Loomis looked for areas to improve upon for 2003, one area of focus was the pit crew. David Smith, the front tire changer on Matt Kenseth's championship pit crew from 2001-2002, departed Roush Racing in favor of Hendrick Motorsports. Smith replaced Todd Gantt as the front tire changer on Gordon's Chevrolet. The remainder of the pit crew is unchanged from 2002 with gas man Jeff Craven, catch can holder Caleb Hurd, front tire carrier Craig Curione, rear tire carrier Steve Letarte, rear tire changer Shane Church, and jackman Jeff Cook.

Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad
DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (February 16)- - Michael Waltrip used drafting help from Dale Earnhardt Jr to take the lead from Jimmie Johnson on lap 106 before rain halted the Daytona 500 three laps later. As the rain continued, Waltrip was declared the winner of the rain-shortened event with 109 of the 200 laps completed. It is Waltrip's second Daytona 500 victory in the past three years and his third career victory, all coming at Daytona. Earnhardt Jr and Waltrip were strong throughout the day but a battery problem forced Earnhardt Jr to pit road on lap 86 which put him two laps down. On the final restart he pulled inside of Johnson to get a lap back and Waltrip followed him past Johnson's Chevrolet to the lead. The victory capped off a dominant Speedweeks for Dale Earnhardt Inc. as its drivers captured the Budweiser Shootout, 125-mile qualifying race, Busch Grand National race, and the Daytona 500.
Jeff Gordon had an eventful day in the draft. He started 13th and tried drafting on the inside line. When he slipped back to 20th, he moved up to the outside line and hooked up with Robby Gordon to get into the top-10 on lap 13. He progressed up to fifth place before taking four tires during a green flag pit stop on lap 33. The first caution came out for Bobby Labonte's spin on lap 41. Gordon took gas only on his pit stop and moved up to sixth position. He ran in the top-five until the day's scariest incident on lap 57. Ward Burton clipped Ken Schrader coming off turn four sending him sideways into Ryan Newman. The Alltel Dodge turned sideways and flipped end over end in the tri-oval before coming to rest upside down. Newman walked away unscathed. A red flag rain delay followed with Earnhardt Jr at the front of the field. When racing resumed, Earnhardt Jr was forced to pit road with a battery problem which gave the lead to Waltrip. Gordon drafted with Jimmie Johnson to move up to fourth position on lap 90. As the skies darkened with rain on the horizon, Jeff Green's wreck brought the field to pit road on lap 96. On the restart Gordon moved up to third as he drafted with Waltrip to pass Tony Stewart. On lap 101 Gordon moved high hoping to draft with Johnson but got hung on the outside. He slipped back to 10th before a caution for Mike Skinner's cut tire. The final restart came on lap 106 with Waltrip following Earnhardt Jr past Johnson to take the lead. Kurt Busch finished second with Johnson, Kevin Harvick, and Mark Martin rounding out the top-five. Gordon slipped back to 12th and the cancellation of the remainder of the event left the four-time champion with a 12th place finish to begin 2003. "We had a fast race car, and the longer we ran the better we were, the better the handling, the further to the front we could get," Gordon said. "I tried to make a move to get up to my teammate Jimmie Johnson so we could push one another, but guys didn't want to go with me. But you don't expect them to-- I made a move, it didn't work out and I fell back to 12th."

Shuffleboard At Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (February 13)- - Jeff Gordon will start 13th in Sunday's Daytona 500 after finishing seventh in the first Twin 125-mile qualifying race on Thursday afternoon. Gordon used a draft on the outside line for most of the race to move into the top ten. After pit stops on lap 31, he moved up to fifth place behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Joe Nemechek. However, the duo was unable to adaquately hook up in the closing stages as they dropped behind Sterling Marlin and Jeff Burton with two laps remaining. Gordon moved ahead of Nemechek on the final lap but was edged out at the finish line by Dale Jarrett in a battle for sixth place. Jarrett made a late race charge from 19th position to secure a solid starting spot in Sunday's race. Meanwhile, Gordon will begin Sunday's race on the inside of the seventh row. It is his lowest starting position in the Daytona 500 since 1998 when he started 29th. "I would've liked to race better," Gordon said. "I struggled at the beginning of the race trying to get up through there. The outside groove just was not moving and I got stuck going to the back, and so it took me a little while to get back up front. With five to go, I had a heck of a run. I'm going to try to get as far forward as I can and try to win the race, but a lot of guys just wanted to stay in line. Sometimes you play the conservative way and it works out for you and sometimes you've got to be a little more aggressive. Jimmy Spencer got into my left rear and about wrecked me. We got lucky, straightened it out and kept going. I got another run on Joe Nemechek. I wanted to push him up to the front, but he didn't want to get out of line and I did. That's just what happens when you're teammates, working together, and you're not thinking on the same wavelength."

Same As It Ever Was
DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (February 9)- - A new season, a new Chevrolet body style, and the same dominant driver on the superspeedways. Dale Earnhardt Jr used drafting help from Ryan Newman to power past Jeff Gordon down the backstretch with five laps remaining to take the victory in the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night. The pole-winners only event saw Earnhardt Jr win both segments as he continued his mastery of restrictor plate racing. He started 19th-- dead last-- on the starting grid but traffic provided little challenge as he took the lead on lap 14. He held off Kurt Busch to win the 20-lap opening segment. In the second segment consisting of 50 laps, he used the high line and some drafting help to take the top spot from Gordon. It was another dominant performance for Earnhardt Jr on a restrictor plate track as he goes in to next week's Daytona 500 as the favorite.
Gordon had a strong car, but was not in the same league as Earnhardt Jr. Then again, nobody was. He finished fourth in the first segment and took the lead nine laps into the second segment. After a round of pit stops, Gordon retook the lead with 15 laps remaining with a daring lowline pass on Matt Kenseth on the short stretch beyond the start-finish line. He held the top spot until Earnhardt Jr put the hammer down with five laps remaining. "I didn't think Junior had enough to get by me (on the high side) but he got a good push," Gordon said. "You've got to pick a lane and Kurt Busch had been pusing me really good in the bottom lane. I saw Junior coming up there and I thought he might get a shove up there, but I didn't think he had enough help to get by me, and, boy, he did. They slowed that inside lane down and got by me. But this is certainly gives us a lot of confidence going into next week." Gordon finished second followed by a two-wide express led by Kenseth, Newman, and Ward Burton.

Helping Out
CONCORD, N.C. (February 5)- - In an effort to further increase fund raising, Jeff Gordon made an appearance at the Boys and Girls Club of Cabarrus County on February 4. He spoke to the crowd of approximately 1,000 for thirty minutes. "Jeff Gordon is one of the biggest names we've ever had for this fund raiser," said executive director Valerie Melton. Last year's fund raiser netted around $55,000 for after school programs for children between the ages of 5 to 18. However, due in large part to Gordon's appearance, more than $83,000 was raised for the running of the Club. "This is an incredible facility-- my first time that I've seen it and it's extremely impressive," Gordon said. "It's the work that's being done inside it that impresses me most." He said he didn't have the opportunity to join a Boys & Girls Club when he was a youth, and noted how lucky youngsters throughout the community are to have such a facility. "The only boys and girls club we had was a racetrack," he said.

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