April 2003 Random News

Brighter Days
KANSAS CITY, KS. (April 30)- - Jeff Gordon went back to school Wednesday to help a young boy with leukemia. Gordon drove 11-year-old Enrique Zendejas to Frances Willard Elementary School in Kansas City, Kansas, in a #24 DuPont two-seater stock car. Enrique had been diagnosed with leukemia. "I get a chance, quiet often, to meet boys and girls who suffer from terrible illnesses-- most of them being leukemia or lymphoma," Gordon said. "Enrique is one of those little boys. Kids like Enrique, who go through some of the things they have to go through, amaze me. Anything that you can do to make their day a little better or a little brighter make the time I spend with them special." Enrique, who had never ridden in a stock car, was excited about the trip to school. "I don't think I will be able to do my homework after this," he said shyly. Enrique added that he was so excited about the drive to school and meeting Gordon, that he was unable to sleep the night before. Enrique and Jeff were greeted by school faculty and nearly 100 of Enrique's classmates, all waving checkered flags and cheering. When he got out of the car, Gordon told him to have a great day at school and handed him his lunch which was packed in a Jeff Gordon lunch box, of course. "I want to help these kids live as normal a life as possible and to be able to have good days like Enrique had today. To be able to enjoy that day in the sun and do something for them. But we're only scratching the surfaces to what we can do. We need to get other people aware and other people involved and other communities involved to keep it going."

Back In Action
LOS ANGELES, CA. (April 29)- - Jeff Gordon unveiled the "Looney Tunes - Back In Action" paint scheme for November's Phoenix race during a press conference in Hollywood on April 24. Last year Gordon and his #24 Chevrolet filmed a cameo scene in the movie on the famous strip in Las Vegas. The picture will debut nationally for audiences in November. To promote the release of this new WB show, with the Looney Tunes gang, the graphic design of Gordon will team up with Yosemite Sam on his Chevrolet, along with driver Joe Nemechek who will feature graphics of Bugs Bunny on his #25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet. Kerry Earnhardt will join forces once again with Yosemite Sam in the Busch Series race, and Kevin Harvick will feature the Tasmanian Devil on his #6 Craftsman Truck at Phoenix.
<<Large image of the DuPont Chevrolet for Phoenix

Swap Shop At Indy
INDIANAPOLIS, IN. (April 29)- - Jeff Gordon will finally get his chance to take a Formula One car for a test drive. Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya were going to swap cars during a test session at Indianapolis last September, but scheduling conflicts forced the session to be cancelled. However, Gordon and Montoya will participate in the duel swap on June 11 at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the 2.6-mile road course circuit. Montoya will drive Gordon's DuPont Chevrolet while Gordon will turn laps in Montoya's BMW WilliamsF1 FW25 car. This will be the first time that Gordon and Montoya will be behind the wheel of a Formula One car and NASCAR Winston Cup car, respectively. The demonstration laps will be Gordon's first on the track's road course. "There are a lot of things to coordinate to make this happen," Gordon said. "Iım just excited about this opportunity. It's something I've dreamed of, just getting behind the wheel of an F1 car and seeing what it was like. I don't plan on going F1 racing, but I would love to just get that experience." Montoya, who won the 2000 Indianapolis 500, will attempt to become the first driver in Speedway history to win on both the famed 2.5-mile oval and road course when he competes in the fourth United States Grand Prix in September. "The experience will be very interesting, and driving a big, heavy NASCAR car will certainly be different," Montoya said. "I don't think Jeff should be concerned that I will take away his job, but I will enjoy the opportunity of driving his Chevrolet and letting him take my BMW WilliamsF1 Team car for a drive on Indy's road course." In addition to the demonstration laps, Montoya and Gordon will participate in a media luncheon and press conference. Fans will have free access to the South Terrace grandstands for viewing.

Fontana Salvage Yard
SOUTHERN CA. (April 27)- - Kurt Busch waited patiently as the laps wound down while Bobby Labonte, Rusty Wallace, and Jamie McMurray traded the lead of the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway. After a caution flag for a multi-car wreck involving Dale Jarrett, Johnny Benson with 20 laps remaining, Busch got a strong run on the restart and passed McMurray for second place with 13 laps to go. Two laps later he took the lead from Wallace in turn one. He pulled away in the closing laps for his second victory of the season and sixth of his career. Busch moved up to fourth in the points standings with the victory.
Jeff Gordon struggled for most of the day at California. He was never a factor for the lead and found himself struggling to stay on the lead lap. He avoided a wreck on the opening lap when polesitter Steve Park moved up the track and ran Ryan Newman into the turn two wall. Park spun across the track as Gordon went low to avoid the spinning car. On lap 127 Gordon was running 19th nearly a lap down but was spared when Tony Stewart's blown engine brought out the caution flag. For the rest of the day he ran toward the end of the lead lap cars rising as high as 10th with 33 laps to go. However, he began to slip back and was running 13th when the multi-car brought out the caution with 20 laps to go. Gordon came onto pit road for four tires and restarted 17th-- the last car on the lead lap. He moved up to 13th heading into the last lap. Jimmie Johnson hit the wall coming off turn four and collected Mark Martin coming to the white flag. The melee allowed Gordon to move up to 11th at the finish. "We made a lot of good calls there at the very end," Gordon said. "If you're going to have your day come together you want to have it happen there at the end. It's a good finish for us, but what a frustrating day. We were decent at the beginning and then we were just so loose on new tires that we would lose several seconds to everybody. Then the car would be halfway decent. But we had to get it tightened up. We made a lot of adjustments but nothing really seemed to work for us. Luckily we put some tires on there at the end and came up to 11th-- almost 10th. We were pretty fortunate today. As bad as we ran and as much as we struggled, we had a lot of good things go our way. We stayed out of the wrecks and never got a lap down. We stayed on the lead lap and that helped us a lot."

Nick Of Time
MARTINSVILLE, VA. (April 14)- - Jeff Gordon's victory in the Virginia 500 would have been a lot harder to pull off if NASCAR officials were a little more strict. Both driver and crew chief are mandated for attendance at the pre-race driver's meeting held two hours before the race. Attendance is taken and no-shows are forced to start at the rear of the field. Robbie Loomis' name was called twice prior to the start of the driver's meeting Sunday when Gordon's crew chief finally materialized, barking "Here" as he stormed into the meeting and took a seat. The rest of the drivers and crew chiefs joined in a chorus of "Oooh" and laughed at the near-miss. NASCAR could have sent Gordon to the back of the field if Loomis had been late for the mandatory meeting. "I know Robbie. He might be a few seconds late, but he'll make it there eventually," Gordon said. "I was getting a little nervous. Usually it's the other way around-- he's looking for me, going 'Where's Jeff?' and I show up just in the nick of time. He was just getting me back." (Charlotte Observer)

Victory At Martinsville
MARTINSVILLE, VA. (April 14)- - Jeff Gordon used a bump pass to take the lead from Bobby Labonte with 14 laps to go and held on to win the Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Gordon led 190 of the 500 laps en route to his first win of the season and 62nd of his career. Gordon battled Dale Earnhardt Jr and Tony Stewart for the top spot during most of the race but Labonte came away with the lead by gambling on two tires during the final round of pit stops with 65 laps to go. But four fresh tires on his last pit stop proved pivotal for Gordon in the final run to what turned out to be a finish under caution at the .526-mile track. "We did what we needed to do all day, stay up front and keep track position," Gordon said. "Bobby and I were having a lot of fun bumping and banging there at the end. I didn't want to knock him out of the way too hard." As the race wound down, Gordon made several attempts to pass Labonte on the inside but couldn't get a strong run off turn two. With 14 laps to go, Gordon nudged Labonte up the track in turn one to take the lead. After Terry Labonte's spin brought out a caution flag with 13 laps to go, Gordon held off Labonte on the restart. Gordon got a good jump and pulled away before Matt Kenseth spun coming off turn four with three laps to go. Kenseth clipped Kurt Busch's tire while he spun. Though no caution was thrown for Kenseth's spin, the yellow flag waved when Busch's tire blew sending him into a spin in turn two with two laps to go. Gordon, Labonte and Earnhardt Jr took the yellow and checkered flags in the top three spots with Jeff Burton and Elliott Sadler passing Tony Stewart off turn four on the race back to the yellow to round out the top five. Sadler's pass on Stewart was a high risk pass as he drove into Stewart's left rear and cut down a tire. Stewart showed his displeasure by running into Sadler under the caution flag.
"They made a heck of a call in the pits," Gordon said of Labonte's team. "I saw Bobby back there before that and it looked like he had a pretty decent car and they got track position. I thought I could get by him earlier. I got up alongside him and my car was just too tight on the bottom and he was holding the line so I couldn't do anything. We fought, we rubbed a little bit, and I tapped him going into turn one. I just had a much faster car and he knew that. I felt good about today. Something just told me that today was going to be a good day." He becomes the ninth different winner in this season's first nine races. He's also the first driver this year to win from the pole position, the 14th time he's accomplished that in his career.

Keynote Speaker
RICHMOND, VA. (April 7)- - Before heading to Martinsville, Jeff Gordon served as the keynote speaker for The Salvation Army Annual Dinner on April 10 in Richmond, Virginia. The event honored donors and volunteers who have contributed to The Salvation Army during the past year. Proceeds will be used to support the programs of The Salvation Army in the central Virginia area.

Weekend At Junior's
TALLADEGA, AL. (April 7)- - Dale Earnhardt Jr won his record-breaking fourth consecutive Winston Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in dramatic fashion. After getting in some extra work by winning the Busch Grand National race on Saturday, Earnhardt Jr started 43rd-- dead last-- in the Winston Cup race due to a pre-race engine change. His day started off on shaky ground when he sustained front end damage during a wreck on lap four which decimated nearly half the field. The Budweiser crew worked on the front end and Earnhardt Jr was able to make his way back into contention. As the laps wound down he faced off with four Hendrick Motorsports cars lined up nose to tail on the inside line. With drafting help from Ward Burton and Matt Kenseth, he was able to take the lead from Jimmie Johnson with 17 laps to go. He would lose the top spot four laps later but regrouped to get a strong run on the backstretch with 3 laps to go. As Earnhardt Jr pulled low, Kenseth pulled down to block. Earnhardt Jr went below the yellow line on the backstretch and completed the winning pass in turn three. In a judgement call, NASCAR upheld the winning pass. Earnhardt Jr held off Kevin Harvick for his eighth career victory.
The day started off with a bang when Ryan Newman cut a left rear tire on the fourth lap. He turned sideways in the middle of turns one and two and collected Mark Martin. From that point, the 25 drivers behind them were along for the ride. A total of 12 cars suffered substantial damage with nine others needing repairs on pit road. Last week Newman was in victory lane at Texas. This week, his day ended after just eight miles of racing.
Jeff Gordon led on several occasions and avoided pitfalls throughout the day. His closest call came on lap 84 when he pulled low on the backstretch to pass Michael Waltrip. As Waltrip moved up the track to give Gordon room on the bottom, he made contact with Ricky Craven's car on the outside. Waltrip spun sideways and nearly caught the right rear of Gordon's Chevrolet as he passed. In the closing laps, Gordon made a concerted effort to work with his Hendrick Motorsports teammates.
However, as is normally the case at Talladega, the trio of Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Terry Labonte were unable to remain in line together in the closing stages. Their line was disrupted when Earnhardt Jr passed Johnson for the top spot with 17 laps to go. Labonte scored his first top-five finish since last June as he finished fifth by working with Sterling Marlin. Johnson spun out with two laps remaining after getting shuffled out of the draft and made contact with Kenny Wallace. Gordon dropped back as low as 12th before passing Matt Kenseth for position to claim 8th place where he would finish. "It got pretty crazy," Gordon said. "Now we come to Talladega to basically race like a short track where you just root people out of the way and use your bumper. That's why some people like this place-- and they're usually the fans and not the drivers. But, we're real thankful to come out of here with a top-10. The car was awesome. At one time I thought we really had the piece to win. You've just got to be in position at the right time and we weren't there at the end. The car is in one piece and we can take it to Daytona in July, so that's always nice." As usual, it was just another crapshoot finish at Talladega. Some might question the below the yellow line winning pass that Earnhardt Jr executed to take the lead which NASCAR later upheld. But it was the Budweiser Chevrolet pulling into victory lane at Talladega. Same as it ever was.

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