The Big Picture
SONOMA, CA. (June 23)- - Could Jeff Gordon had made a daring move to pass Robby Gordon in the closing laps of the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway? Probably. But rather to put a strong finish at risk, Gordon raced clean and came up a bit short at the finish line. Robby Gordon, who led the most laps at Sonoma, captured his second career victory. "On this racetrack it's hard to pass," Jeff Gordon said. "We were faster than him and he was blocking, which you need to do and it was a good move. My hat's off to him. They did what they needed to do. They had the track position. I did everything I could to go by him, but that's all we had for him." Though, when pressed, Gordon admitted that a runner-up finish to close the points gap was on his mind. "I had to keep (points) in mind," Jeff Gordon said. "Robby's pretty hungry at these road course races. There were a couple of times where I could have made some moves on him but it was very iffy. As agressive as Robby is, you want to be careful when you're going for a championship." Combined with Matt Kenseth's 14th place finish and Dale Earnhardt Jr's 11th place effort, Gordon moved up to second in the standings and trails Kenseth by 174 points. This is the highest Gordon has been in the points standings since he was second after he won the Southern 500 last September. He has not led the standings since winning the 2001 championship.
Smoke Out, Nextel In
NEW YORK, N.Y. (June 19)- - While the impact of sponsorship from RJ Reynolds Tobacco in NASCAR racing since 1972 cannot be understated, the tobacco giant is finally bowing out of America's premier spectator sport. Nextel, a wireless communications company based in Virginia, was announced as the new title sponsor of the NASCAR series known currently as the Winston Cup series. The introductory press conference was held on Thursday, June 19 in New York City's Times Square. Along with NASCAR and Nextel officers, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr, the two most popular drivers in NASCAR, were on hand. Nextel will take over as title sponsor beginning in 2004. "If you look at where we've been in the past with tobacco, there's been so many restrictions on where they can advertise, how they can advertise, and the age group they can advertise to," Gordon said. "The thing about Nextel is that there are few restrictions on what they're going to be able to do." This year officially marks the end of the line for NASCAR's 31 year association with RJ Reynolds and its Winston brand. For cantankerous RJR CEO Andrew Schindler, who has often compared nicotine addiction to a fondness for carrots or chocolate, the smoke is finally out of NASCAR. Not a moment too soon.
Long May You Run
BROOKLYN, MI. (June 16)- - Who knows what the end result might have been if Jeff Gordon got a long green flag run at the end of the Sirius 400. Gordon was near the front of the field virtually all day at Michigan International Speedway but seemed best on long runs. He started sixth and made his way up to third by the end of the first lap. In a prelude of things to come, Gordon battled Kurt Busch for position on lap 8 with Busch taking the third spot. As the day progressed, Gordon followed Sterling Marlin and Tony Stewart at the front of the field battling a tight handling condition. When Ricky Craven began gaining for third just after the halfway point, Gordon altered his line and drove near the top of the track. The result was slightly quicker lap times, though Craven did take the position before green flag pit stops on lap 121. After the stops, Gordon passed Stewart for the runner-up position but Marlin began pulling away with the lead. A caution for debris on the track brought the field to pit road with 42 laps to go. Gordon left pit road with the lead over Marlin. On the restart, Busch powered past Marlin who got a poor start. Gordon had about a one second advantage on Busch but the lead evaporated when Greg Biffle spun onto the infield grass with 29 laps to go. Gordon stayed out for track position as did Busch. On the restart, Busch got a strong run off turn four and took the lead with 23 laps to go. Busch held off Bobby Labonte and Gordon on two final restarts to win his third race of the season and seventh of his career. "To me that was a winning effort by the team," Gordon said. "We kept adjusting all day for the long runs and it came down to a short lap shootout and that killed us. I got that one good run on a restart with the lead. I stretched it out there and Kurt was a little bit faster than us. I think I might have been able to hold him off, but that next (restart) he got to my bumper, got me loose, and there wasn't much I could do about it at that point."
Hard Day Near Split Rock
BLAKESLEE, PA. (June 9)- - Tony Stewart broke a 27-race winless drought with a victory in the Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway. Stewart took the lead during a round of caution flag pit stops on lap 154. He beat Sterling Marlin off pit road to take the top spot, which he relinquished only during a round of green flag pit stops later in the race. After Kurt Busch cut a tire on lap 193 to bring out a caution flag, the field was bunched together for a restart with three laps remaining. Stewart began pulling away from runner-up Mark Martin before the caution waved for Jeff Green's hard crash on Long Pond straight. Green was bumped by Terry Labonte and spun into the infield embankment. The race ended under caution with Stewart capturing the 15th victory of his career. Martin was second, followed by points leader Matt Kenseth in third.
Jeff Gordon struggled with a tight handling car virtually all day. He started 12th but dropped to last place on lap 2 when he cut a tire in turn one. He was able to stay on the lead lap due to a well-timed caution flag on lap 8 for Ken Schrader's wreck in turn one. He worked his way up to 24th by lap 40 and stayed on the track during a round of pit stops under caution on lap 54 to move up to third. That would be the high water mark of his day as he began fading back through the field-- falling to ninth on lap 86. He moved up to sixth during green flag pit stops on lap 90 but faded on longer runs, dropping to 13th with 53 laps remaining. After a caution on lap 154, he briefly entered the top-10 with 42 laps remaining. When Busch brought out the caution flag, Gordon came onto pit road for two tires. He restarted in 13th but couldn't gain any ground as Green's crash ended any hopes for a position gain in the final two laps.
STATESVILLE, N.C. (June 6)- - It's no secret that the costs associated with running a Winston Cup team have skyrocketed in recent years. Gone are longtime car owners Bud Moore, Andy Petree, and Junie Donlavey-- victims of dwindling sponsorship dollars. When Ray Evernham left Hendrick Motorsports in 1999 to form his own racing organization, the costs were on the rise. Wind tunnel time, engineers, and shock specialists had to be factored into the budget. Evernham recently lamented on the high price of running in NASCAR's premier series. ""It tears me up," Evernham said. "I spent way more money here than I ever did at Hendrick. Believe it or not, at Hendrick I was pretty much in control of the budget for the DuPont team. I knew what it took. We were on a budget, and it was my responsibility to look after it. It's two to three times more expensive now. When we won our first championship in 1995 I know what we spent and we easily spend three times that now. It's hard. It really is hard." The economics of the sport have allowed a small number of teams to profit while the others struggle to balance their budgets. "I wasn't spending my own money as a crew chief and I was making money," Evernham said. "Now I'm spending my own money and I might have to get a part-time job. I don't know that it's out of control, but the sport has changed. We run more races. We're putting more technology in the cars. The level of performance has come up. If you look at NASCAR throughout the years, you know maybe in the 1960's there were five competitive cars, then the 1970's there were 10 competitive cars, and then 15 in the 1980's. Now there's 25 competitive cars. You can be just a little bit off and be running 25th. The time we're taking to prepare everything to the smallest degree has raised the cost, the travel, the number of people you have to have. I feel like it's going to level out, but NASCAR has to keep a close eye on that. We've got to stop cutting the bodies off these things because we're spending way too much money doing that."
Getting Real Behind The Wheel
WILMINGTON, DE. (June 4)- - The festive DuPont Day event has been a tradition in Wilmington, Delaware for the past ten years. As was the case in previous years, Jeff Gordon attended the event in Rodney Square on Thursday, May 29. He joined Mike Sanders of the DuPont Auto Safety Initiative to kick off the DuPont "Get Real Behind The Wheel" driver safety tour. Aimed at newly licensed young drivers, the "Get Real" traveling exhibit will make more than 20 stops in 11 cities over the next six months, appearing at concerts, festivals, NASCAR races and other venues that attract young people. Its centerpiece is the 45-foot "Get Real" trailer, which houses a specially-designed simulator in which teens can take two-minute test drives to assess their skills in hazardous driving conditions. In addition to the trailer, the exhibit features displays showcasing DuPont contributions to auto safety. In addition to an appearance by Gordon and the DuPont showcar, highlights of the event included a demonstration of shatter resistant glass, watching an airbag inflate and deflate, as well as the specially-designed simulator.
NEW YORK, N.Y. (June 4)- - Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are scheduled to participate in a tire test at New Hampshire International Speedway later this month. The turns on the one-mile oval were repaved in April after the asphalt came apart during the Winston Cup races last year. With teams limited to five test dates in 2003, test data has become invaluable. "With our test at Loudon, we'll learn things that we can take to Richmond and Phoenix," said Greg Zipadelli, crew chief on Stewart's Chevrolet. "So with picking test dates, you also look at where you can use that information at other race tracks."
Gordon had a brief test session at the historic Virginia International Raceway road course on June 3. The 3.2-mile VIR track has elevation changes and tight turns similar to the Sonoma, California road course where the Winston Cup series will race on June 22. The session allowed the team to work on the chassis and wear in the brakes without burning an official test session since VIR is not a track on the current NASCAR schedule.
A Cut Above
NEW YORK, N.Y. (June 2)- - Before co-hosting "Live with Regis and Kelly" on Wednesday morning, Jeff Gordon stopped off to get a haircut. No, it wasn't the corner barber or a trip to a discount chain-- not for live TV and not for Jeff Gordon. He stopped in at the plush Pierre Michel Salon on East 57th St in New York City. The 8,000-square foot, two story complex includes a blue tiled, calming shampoo room, a VIP room for clients desiring privacy and a cappaccino bar serving complementary coffees and light cuisine. Oh by the way, cuts start at $125. (PageSix)
Newman Takes Dover
SMYRNA, DE. (June 2)- - After his power steering fluid ran dry, Ryan Newman got down to business. Newman started from the pole position in the MBNA 400 at Dover International Speedway and raced in the top-five for most of the day. He passed Jeff Gordon for the lead on lap 327 and held off Gordon on the final restart with six laps remaining. It was Newman's second victory of the season and third of his career. Newman's day became more eventful after losing power steering, but the runner-up finisher was in the thick of the battle all day. Gordon started ninth and worked his way up to third place by lap 32 but dropped to fourth after caution flag pit stops on lap 36. Due to the tight pit road at Dover, Gordon lost positions on caution flag stops with Terry Labonte pitting directly in front of him and Tony Stewart behind him. This forced Gordon to enter his pit stall on an angle. However, things changed on lap 139 when Stewart was penalized one lap for having the right front corner of his Chevrolet outside of his pit box. Gordon worked his way up from seventh position up to take second from Newman on lap 236. Four laps later he passed Jimmie Johnson for the race lead. Johnson wrecked on the backstretch on lap 277 and Gordon led the field onto pit road. He exited pit road with the lead but lost the top spot to Bobby Labonte on lap 285. He waited for his tire pressures to come up and retook the lead from Labonte on lap 322. However, Newman passed Gordon on lap 327 to take first place. Stewart, who had the fastest car on the track, made up his lap and moved up to third place by lap 388. The final caution came out for Casey Mears' crash in turn one. "I lost the power steering with about 180 laps to go and that made it really hard," Newman said. "I couldn't even scrub my tires like the rest on the cautions because of it." On the final restart, Newman closed the door on Gordon entering turn one while Labonte passed Stewart on the outside to take third. "(Gordon) raced me clean, and I appreciate that," Newman said. "He could have tapped me and got me loose. I was proud to race with him." The runner-up finisher was satisfied with his day. "It was an awesome race car all day long," Gordon said. "Unfortunately we didn't get the best of pit stalls out there. I kept getting blocked in. I had Tony right behind me and Terry in front so I just couldn't win on that. We finally started getting some openings and got track position. We kept freeing the car up all day long. Then we got one set of tires that just made it so loose that I couldn't drive it. We tightened it up, and then that last set of tires was just real tight. I made a run on (Newman) on that last restart. But I didn't know what it was going to do if I got underneath him because it was pushing so bad that I probably would have taken both of us out." Earlier in the race, Gordon made contact with Sterling Marlin battling for third place coming off turn two resulting in a hard crash for Marlin. It was the second time in the past three events that Gordon has pushed up in turn two into the left rear of Marlin's Dodge. "I definitely got into him," Gordon said of the incident on lap 113. "There's no doubt about it. I certainly didn't mean to. I don't know if I caught the apron or just got a big push, but we were racing hard for position, and the front end just took off on me. I tried to stay out of him, but I couldn't. I'm sure he's mad. I was mad when I got hit by him one time at Richmond. Hopefully, we'll get past it and move forward. He's not a guy that I really talk to a lot. He doesn't talk to me a lot, so I would imagine we'll see one another on the race track again."
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