Top Of The Heap
MARTINSVILLE, VA. (October 18)- - Jeff Gordon captured the pole position for Sunday's Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway with a qualifying lap of 93.65 miles per hour. It was Gordon's fourth pole of the season and 46th of his career. In six short track races this season, his average starting position is 2.6-- including a sweep of both poles at Martinsville. Besides the top starting spot, Gordon will have the preferred pit stall in the turn two corner of pit road. A strong finish on Sunday would go a long way toward getting him back into the top five in the series points standings. "We're within striking distance of second place," Gordon said. "I think our realistic goals are to try to get back in the top five and take a shot at second," Gordon said. We just have to keep digging. I think we've put a team out there good enough to win the championship and just haven't had the results. That's nobody's fault but ours. But just a few things have happened that didn't help us stay near the top." On the heels of his fourth consecutive top-five finish last weekend at Charlotte, Gordon returns to the scene of his most recent Winston Cup victory. In his past six races at Martinsville Speedway, he has four pole positions and hasn't started lower than third. "I was pretty excited when I saw how good the car was here when it came off the truck," Gordon said. "We didn't test (here) like a lot of the other teams and we hoped a few little things we've learned all year would step us up a notch. That's what happened." In the spring race at the track, he started on the pole, led 190 laps, and made a bump pass on Bobby Labonte with 14 laps to go to take the victory. I always feel good about Martinsville," said Gordon, who has four career wins there. "We had a good, strong car all day long there earlier this year. So I'm excited about heading back there." He struggled at the .526-mile track early in his NASCAR career but experience has paid off. "Martinsville was probably one of the toughest tracks for me to learn," Gordon said. "Just making a lot of laps in a test there several years back helped me find some things. Each year, we just make the cars better and it helps me. We've discussed ideas to make ourselves even better when we go back. It's rough because it's a tough place to pass on and it's a short track. Put those two things together and you have a lot of bumping and banging. Some of it could be paybacks and some of it could just be hard short-track racing."
WILMINGTON, N.C. (October 16)- - The third annual Jeff Gordon Go-Kart Challenge took place at the Jungle Rapids amusement park in Wilmington, North Carolina on October 16. All proceeds from the event went to the Jeff Gordon Foundation to benefit the Hendrick Marrow Program. The challenge featured four-person corporate teams competing against each other and the four-time Winston Cup champion. A series of 10-lap races were held with the winners competing against Gordon in a championship showdown. The first challenge, held in 2001, raised $35,000 for the Hendrick Marrow Program which began in 1997 after car owner Rick Hendrick was diagnosed with leukemia. The Hendrick Marrow Program seeks to launch drives to recruit bone marrow donors, raise funds for tissue typing, and educating the public about the National Marrow Donor Program.
Building Blocks In Place
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (October 12)- - Less than one month ago Jeff Gordon was answering questions regarding the future of his crew chief Robbie Loomis. A string of poor finishes over the summer left Gordon focusing his efforts toward 2004. The driver was quick to dispel any rumors about Loomis' future. A vote of confidence was given and the race results have improved. Coincidence? In the UAW-GM 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Gordon finished fifth for the fourth consecutive race. It is his longest top-five streak since June 2001 when he posted four straight top fives, including two victories. Though he hasn't visited victory lane since Martinsville in April, the momentum is clearly in Gordon and Loomis' corner. "We started on the outside pole but the car was extremely tight off the corners, especially turn four," Loomis said. "We were really good in turns one and two all night, but Jeff said we needed to tighten the car to help get off turn four. After we made that adjustment we started getting too tight off turn four. There at the end we had a real good car. Then on the last pit stop I went up a pound on the right front and that hurt us." With the finish, Gordon moved to within shooting distance of the runner-up position in the points standings. "We’re 140 points behind second, so we’re looking good on that front," Loomis said. "We know Matt Kenseth is looking real good at this point as far as the championship, but we do feel like we can make it up to second. It’s going to take a lot of work but if we keep doing it the way we've done the last four weeks it will definitely help us out. We feel real good about the tracks we have left coming up. We want to get a couple more wins before the season is over." Championship teams generally come together the year before they capture the sport's highest honor. The past month has seen the DuPont team's race results validate their performance. It is almost reminiscent of the last few races of the 2000 season. A miserable summer stretch eliminated Gordon from title contention. But the team finished strong and came out the following year prepared and ready to attain greatness. The preparation is well underway. Dress rehearsals end in five weeks.
Opening The Vault
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (October 12)- - Watching the black #3 taking a pace lap at Lowe's Motor Speedway was like seeing a family heirloom taken out of its secure case, if only for a moment. A car with that paint scheme made a lap on a NASCAR track for the first time since Dale Earnhardt's death at Daytona in February 2001. The reaction of the crowd, the broadcasters, and the TV viewers spoke volumes. Behind the wheel was Richard Childress, the car owner who led Earnhardt to six of his seven Winston Cup championships. The car took to the track in honor of RJR's "Victory Lap" program. Jeff Gordon took a lap alongside Childress, but soon dropped back to his place in line leaving the entire moment to the black #3 car. Seeing the #3 car on the track is the best way to honor the legacy of the driver who rose to national prominence behind the wheel of the car in the 80's and 90's. Keeping the number locked away like an heirloom might seem like the proper thing to do, but the heirloom should be shared and appreciated by all. I still think of the #7 as being Alan Kulwicki's old number, I still look at the #25 and think of Tim Richmond, still see the #45 as Adam Petty's car, and still picture Davey Allison behind the wheel of the #28. No matter the current driver's behind the wheel of cars with those numbers, the deeper association is with the drivers who are no longer with us. It's the same way for the #3. It doesn't belong locked in a vault; it belongs on the racetrack. For a few minutes on Saturday night it was. Here's to a more lasting return in the future.
Night Rider's Lament
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (October 10)- - On the heels of three consecutive top-five finishes, Jeff Gordon will try for his second victory of the season in the first night time running of the UAW-GM 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. The traditional October race was moved to Saturday night for the first time this season. Regardless of the on-track action, the highlight of the evening will be the pre-race pace lap with Richard Childress driving an RJR tribute paint scheme to Dale Earnhardt. Alongside Childress will be Gordon driving his own RJR tribute paint scheme. Gordon has four victories at the 1.5-mile track outside of Charlotte, with his most recent coming in 1999. He's posted three straight top-ten finishes at the track and has 13 career top-ten's in 21 starts. He also has seven career pole positions at LMS, the most of any track on the circuit. Under the lights at Charlotte, Gordon has racked up three victories in the Coke 600 and three victories in The Winston. "This track has a lot of unique characteristics that just make it real challenging, but it's also fun to run here," Gordon said. "This is one of those places that everyone really likes. Even though there are bumps and cracks out here, it's a very forgiving track where you can run the bottom, the middle and the top. This is one of the tracks that I enjoy the most." Though Gordon is focused on victories, his championship focus has already shifted to next season. "We don't approach the remaining races differently," Gordon said. "Our approach is the same as it's been all year, to run well every weekend and win when the opportunity presents itself. Right now, we're focusing on finishing this year on a positive note. We can build all these new cars for next season and come out strong at Daytona and contend for the 2004 championship." Less than 10 years ago under a starry night sky, a 22-year-old racer was just trying to make a name for himself in a funky rainbow painted car. He won his first Winston Cup race thanks to a savvy late race pit strategy call by his crew chief. Everything changes with time-- paint schemes, crew chiefs, tax brackets, even marital status. But there's been one constant from that starry night in 1994. Jeff Gordon's racing under the lights at Charlotte and wants a victory. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Rolling The 8 Ball
KANSAS CITY, KS. (October 5)- - For the eighth time this season, Ryan Newman used a combination of guile, strategy, and horsepower to claim a Winston Cup victory. After making his final pit stop for fuel with 78 laps remaining, both Newman and Jeremy Mayfield needed at least 12 laps of caution to make it to the finish of the Banquet 400 at Kansas Speedway. Caution flags for individual incidents involving Michael Waltrip, Mark Martin, and Johnny Benson put the pair within their fuel window. Newman passed Mayfield for the lead with less than 25 laps remaining and held on despite a late race charge from Bill Elliott. It is Newman's ninth career win and marks the first time since 1998 that a driver has won eight races in a season. Jeff Gordon's day was good, but simply not good enough to challenge for a victory. He moved up to second by lap 12 but never led the race at any point during the day. He ran in the top ten all day but battled a tight handling condition on the longer runs. Gordon restarted eighth after his final pit stop with 67 laps remaining and moved up to 6th by passing Jeff Burton with 25 to go. With ten laps remaining, he squeezed in front of Jamie McMurray as the pair made slight contact. "It was my fault," Gordon said. "I was going to move up to the top lane, he had a run on me, and we were just battling hard for position. I slid in front of him. He could have wrecked me. He got into me and it cost him a couple of spots." At the finish line, Gordon was a distant fifth behind race winner Newman. "I'm really glad to get this thing in the top five. We were about a third place car most of the day but it was just way too tight on long runs. We made quite a few changes today. At the start of the race we were really good. It just got tighter and tighter as the day went on. We were pretty good on new tires for a couple of laps, but then it would get real tight. We needed clean air, needed that track position and we really couldn't get it. But all of us that fell back there, to get back up to fifth I couldn't be happier for this race team. Three top fives in a row, I'm pretty happy with that." Before his current three race string, the last time Gordon had three consecutive top five's was the final three races of the 2002 season.
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