Frenchman For The Night
LOUDON, N.H. (July 25)- - Mid-July was the fourth (and final) off weekend for the Nextel Cup series before the season ends in November. While some drivers stayed busy by participating in other racing events, others took full advantage of the time off with a European vacation. Jeff Gordon headed to the French Riviera, for a few days on the beaches and waters of Saint-Tropez. "I had a friend whose parents had a boat there," Gordon said. "I stayed at a hotel and then we'd go out on the boat, go to the beach, restaurants, and all that stuff." Was the boat a little dinghy? "Right," Gordon said, smiling. "It was 105 feet, so it wasn't bad. Perfect, though, for Saint-Tropez." Gordon has said that he's never had the desire to drive in a non-NASCAR event during the racing season. "I learned a long time ago that my off weekends are very valuable to me and I take full advantage of experiencing life and experiencing new places and doing things that are either relaxing or fun or something that is totally different than racing," he said. "That's the way I just chose to enjoy my off weekends." He spent the first off weekend, Feb. 28-29, essentially hanging out at home in Boca Raton, Florida. On the second open date, in April, Gordon went to the Bahamas, and then flew to Augusta, Georgia, to take in the final round of the Masters-- he watched from the 18th green as Phil Mickelson claimed his first major-- then wrapped up his vacation by flying to Los Angeles to serve as a celebrity judge in the Miss USA pageant. On the third off weekend, in May, Gordon rewarded himself for winning back-to-back races at Talladega and California by going on a European trip. He went to Paris (though he wasn't looking for answers to questions that bothered him so!), then joined Jimmie Johnson on a trip to Barcelona, Spain to attend the Formula One Spanish Grand Prix as guests of the BMW-Williams team. "I wasn't just going there to go to a race," Gordon said. "I wanted to go to Barcelona and Paris to vacation. It worked out the race was there as well, so I got to throw that in as a plus. And, you know, I wasn't driving, there was no pressure, and it wasn't anything like being there to compete. So it was a vacation."
Celebrity Poker Showdown
LAS VEGAS, NV. (July 15)- - It wasn't a side-by-side battle with Tony Stewart coming off turn four on the last lap, but Jeff Gordon pulled a "10 of hearts" to win the 'Celebrity Poker Showdown,' taped earlier this year at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Gordon's competition was Ron Livingston, Angie Dickinson, Kathy Griffin, and Penn Jillette. Each week a new crop of stars will take to the table to challenge their peers. Gordon, as the winner of the game, will go on to compete in the championship final sixth episode airing on Thursday, August 12 on Bravo. All players are guaranteed at least $5,000 in prize money. Just for making it to the finals, fifth place will win $7,500, fourth place will win $10,000, third place will win $12,500 and second place will walk away with $20,000 for their charity. The "Celebrity Poker Showdown" champions will each walk away with $100,000 for the charity of their choice. Gordon's winnings will be donated to the Jeff Gordon Foundation.
Four For Fighting
JOLIET, ILL. (July 12)- - If there are moral victories, Jeff Gordon achieved one during the Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. A fourth place finish snapped his two-race winning streak, but the perseverance show during Sunday's race just may have trumped the previous two races. Gordon started from the pole position but battled a loose handling car almost from the outset. "We took off there and I was pretty good," Gordon said of the start. "All the sudden, I got super loose. We tried everything in the world and it didn't tighten the car up. When you do that, you know something is wrong there." He backslid through the field and was fighting to stay on the lead lap, just one car length ahead of race leader Tony Stewart when the caution waved on lap 121. A lengthy stay on pit road didn't help matters and Gordon continued to struggle with the handling of the DuPont Chevrolet. He went a lap down, but received the "free pass" under caution on lap 173 to get back on the lead lap. "We were in big trouble," Gordon said. "I think the left rear jack screw undid itself somehow. We got far behind and nearly lost a lap. Then we lost a lap and got the 'lucky dog.' The cautions fell at the right time and we had great pit stops." Gordon moved into the top-20 in the last 50 miles but looked to be on his way to a less than stellar finish. However, a caution flag with 20 laps to go brought the back end of the lead lap cars to pit road. A four tire change helped the handling on the car as Gordon steadily progressed into the top-ten going around drivers on older tires. He passed Sterling Marlin, Terry Labonte and Jeremy Mayfield in the closing stages to gain a top-five finish. "It feels like a win right now," Gordon said. "That was an amazing display of teamwork and good fortune. I told the guys today, this was a day to appreciate those good days we've had recently.
Stewart Takes Chicago
JOLIET, ILL. (July 12)- - Tony Stewart broke into the win column for the first time in the 2004 season with a dominating performance in the Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. Stewart led 160 of the 267 laps but touched off the most heated moment of the racing season after a restart on lap 127. On fresh tires, Stewart rocketed up the outside line heading into turn one. Stewart continued his head of steam as he beared down on race leader Kasey Kahne heading into turn one. Never one to back down on the track, Stewart hit the rear of Kahne's car sending the rookie contender into a spin. Four cars were swept up in the melee while Stewart escaped unscathed. After the wreck, Kahne's crew chief Tommy Baldwin charged into Stewart's pit looking for crew chief Greg Zipadelli. "Tony Stewart loses his temper again and takes us out for the second time this year," car owner Ray Evernham said. "You got a guy that does this week in and week out and nobodyís doing anything about it. Iíd like to have ten minutes with Tony Stewart and handle it myself. What happened there was unnecessary, and NASCAR needs to do something about it before somebody gets hurt. He definitely needs to get suspended, and he should have his ass beat. Thatís the problem with him. Nobody has ever really grabbed him and given him a good beating. If he doesnít get suspended, maybe Iíll do that." In victory lane, Stewart, in a rare post-race interview, was more apologetic about the incident. "All of the sudden he checked up and I don't know what happened," Stewart said. "We could have gotten taken out just as easily. (Kasey's) the last guy I'd want to hurt. I hate to have something like that happen. We had such a good car, it wasn't going to matter anyway. We didn't need to turn him around to get to victory lane. We were going to win this race no matter what."
Another Pole For The Collection
JOLIET, ILL. (July 10)- - For the fourth consecutive week, Jeff Gordon will start a NASCAR race from the pole position. Gordon captured the top spot for Sunday's Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway after turning a track record lap of 186.94 miles per hour. It was Gordon's fifth pole of the season and 51st of his career. Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports teammates won't be far behind at the outset of the race. Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers will share the second row. "We never stopped focusing on what we could do to get the balance of the car a little better, to get the car a little bit more comfortable," Gordon said. "I was struggling a little bit through turns three and four in practice. I had one and two down pretty good. The late qualifying draw certainly helped us. The track temperature came down. The adjustments that Robbie Loomis made after we talked were great adjustments. I went into turn three coming to the green and the car stuck like glue. I really put the gas pedal down fast and hard and it did what I wanted it to do. I knew that it was one of those laps that you hold on tight and hope that sticks because you know you get a car that is capable of getting the pole if you can hit your marks. We hit our marks. We got through one and two and followed that up by getting the car really good through three and four. I knew it was a good lap." Make no mistake about it-- Gordon is the hottest driver in North American motorsports with two straight wins and four consecutive poles in NASCAR's elite circuit. After a road course and restrictor plate victory, Gordon is looking to make it three wins in a row. While team chemistry and determination could be the leading factor behind the recent streak, another factor could be motivation after a 30th place finish in late May at Lowe's Motor Speedway. "We had a miserable race at Charlotte, and I think it lit a fire underneath us," Gordon said. "This team has been on a mission since then. We're heading into this weekend with a lot of confidence. This team is on a roll right now. We've been strong week in and week out on different types of race tracks." Gordon has won on 19 of the 23 tracks currently on the schedule. Along with Chicagoland, he has yet to score a victory at Texas, Phoenix, and Miami. Though he has posted two top-five finishes in three events at Chicago. He's also the only driver to complete every lap run in the three races, and has an average finish of seventh. "I hope we can carry the momentum we have into this weekend and it translates into another strong performance," Gordon said. "It would be nice to win at a track that we haven't won on, yet. It's a cool statistic, but that's not my goal. My goal is to get better everywhere we go, try to win every race and, ultimately, win the championship. Winning at a track we've never won on would be icing on the cake."
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