November 2004 Random News

Sick Days In New York
SOUTH FLORIDA. (November 30)- - While flu-like symptoms prevented Jeff Gordon from participating in the Race of Champions in Paris on December 4, he did attend the NASCAR awards banquet in New York City after checking out of Lenox Hill Hospital. Though obviously under the weather, he took the situation in good humor and joked about accumulating the most points during the 2004 season without a championship trophy to show for it.

24 Karat Boat Drinks
SOUTH FLORIDA. (November 30)- - Tara Reid moves fast. The blond actress, who had a now-famous wardrobe malfunction on the red carpet, is currently dating hockey star Sergei Federov. Reid went to Miami to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with a new boyfriend (not Federov) at the Delano Hotel in South Beach. But she arrived two days before him and started cavorting with the Russian hockey player-- abandoning the unwitting heir so she could hang out with Federov on Jeff Gordon's yacht. (NY Post)

Along The Biscayne Shore
SOUTH FLORIDA (November 29)- - Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson hung around South Florida for a few days following the season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. On Tuesday night they attended the Miami Heat game at American Airlines Arena on the shores of Biscayne Bay. Though the duo were just two of the notables sitting courtside. New York Yankees' third baseman Alex Rodriguez sat with Heat owner Micky Arison, actress Tara Reid, and the owner of a certain website were also in the vicinity. It wasn't a good night for the home team as the Heat lost 99-87 to Portland.

Brian Moves On
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (November 22)- - The man who's been with Jeff Gordon's team for all of his 401 races in NASCAR's elite series will be moving on; though he won't be moving far. Brian Whitesell, one of the first employees hired by Ray Evernham in 1992, will take on the newly created position of team manager for the #5, #25 and #44 Nextel Cup teams with drivers Kyle Busch, Brian Vickers, and Terry Labonte. Whitsell graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from Virginia Tech University in 1987. He left an engineering job with Mack Truck to enter the NASCAR world with Alan Kulwicki's team. He joined Hendrick Motorsports in 1992 and drove the DuPont team transporter to and from the racetrack for two years. When Whitesell wasn't driving the 18-wheeler, he was helping the crew prepare cars. In 1995, Whitesell was promoted to the position of team engineer. He remained in that role until Evernham's departure in 1999 when he moved into the crew chief role. Whitesell led Gordon to two victories, and moved up to the team manager's role following the season. Shop foreman Mark Thoreson and lead engineer Darian Grubb will share Whitesell’s former duties.

So Close, So Far SOUTH FLORIDA (November 22)- - The championship seemed within Jeff Gordon's reach at various times during the season ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But in the end it just slipped away. Gordon's third place finish left him 16 points short of Kurt Busch in the final standings. His go-for-broke attitude in the final stages of the race wasn't enough to deny Busch his first NASCAR championship. Though Gordon amassed more points than any other driver in 2004, Busch captured the title on the heels of his performances in the final ten races of the season. Jimmie Johnson finished second to race winner Greg Biffle, and finished second to Busch in the final standings by a mere 8 points. It is the second consecutive runner-up finish in the standings for Johnson. Busch overcame adversity on lap 93 when his right front tire came loose from the wheel. He narrowly missed hitting the pit wall, but was able to stay on the lead lap because the tire came to rest on the track. He dropped back to 25th place but steadily made his way around traffic. However, Busch still needed a final push to take the title. He restarted from 18th position with 50 laps left in the race. He kept Gordon and Johnson within view as he made his way through race traffic. On the final restart under green/white/checkered flag conditions, Gordon made a move to get around race leader Tony Stewart and Biffle. He tapped Biffle which seemed to break his momentum and allow Johnson to get around him. Biffle was able to get around Stewart to claim the victory, but the day belonged the new champion, Kurt Busch. "We gave it a heck of an effort," Gordon said. "We had a flat left rear that really got us behind and we fought all day long. We struggled a little bit there at the beginning and got better and better. Those last couple of restarts, we had a shot at least to win the race. I don't know if that was going to win us the championship, but it was a great year. Congratulations to Kurt Busch and Roush Racing. They did a great job all year and they deserve it."

Unfinished Business
DARLINGTON, S.C. (November 15)- - On paper, a third place finish in the Southern 500 is an accomplishment. However, races and championships aren't won on paper-- they're won on the race track. Jeff Gordon was leading the race by more than two seconds when a caution flag with 38 laps remaining brought the field to pit road. The rear air hose was caught under the tire. The delay cost Gordon the lead as he dropped back to seventh on the restart. A determined driving effort in the closing laps allowed him to move up to third as his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson won his fourth race in the last five events.
Gordon's 400th career start began in fine fashion as he sprinted to the lead on lap 2. However, he developed a loose condition and lost the top spot on lap 20. By lap 50 he had fallen to 17th. He ran between 14th-17th until lap 120 when he came off pit road in 11th during a caution flag. He steadily moved through traffic and gained re-entry into the top-five on lap 174. He regained the lead on pit road on lap 194 with a quick four-tire change. He lost the lead briefly to Mark Martin on pit road on lap 248, but quickly regained the lead from Martin on lap 254. That's where he ran until the ill-fated pit stop with 38 to go. "If we're going to win this championship, we can't make these kind of mistakes," Gordon said after the race. "We made a mistake and it cost the win and a lot of momentum going to Homestead." For Gordon the task is simple for Miami-- win the race. That would put him ahead of Johnson and Busch would need a top-five finish to take the championship.

Upping The Ante
SOUTH FLORIDA (November 11)- - Jeff Gordon improved upon his fastest testing lap at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Wednesday with a speed of 175.38 miles per hour, about two-tenths of a second quicker than his fast lap on Tuesday. However, Mark Martin turned the fastest lap of the day at 176.75 miles per hour as the two-day test session wrapped up at NASCAR's southernmost track. "The track definitely lost a little bit of grip, which is a good thing," Gordon said after testing. "It's just going to make the racing that much better. Tracks that mature over time, look at Kansas City and look at Chicago, they've just gotten better and better. I think the intensity of the weather down here, with the heat and the sun, has really allowed this track to mature very fast." Gordon is in the thick of things in the chase for the Cup, but he'd be leading by 67 points under the former system. "I looked at where I'd be under the old points system, and I'd be a little bit happier than I am right now," he said. "But, I think it is good for the sport." Following Martin and Gordon on the overall speed chart were Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jimmie Johnson who had fast laps over 174 miles per hour. The drivers were testing in preparation for the season-ending Miami 400 on November 21. Gordon finished fifth at the track in 2003 and will likely need a strong performance to have a chance at the Nextel Cup championship. "We were decent there last year," Gordon said. "It's just all about handling and getting the car to go through the corners. It's a fast race track. There are things we can experiment with now because there are a lot of teams that are doing a lot with big springs and sway bars and shocks and things. Some of them maybe have done a better job than we have. We're going to try some things and hopefully learn some things."

Moving Forward
CHARLOTTE. N.C. (November 8)- - Rick Hendrick returned to the Hendrick Motorsports complex last week to talk to his extended family in his first appearance there after the tragic plane crash on October 24 that claimed the life of his son, his brother, two nieces, and several longtime employees. He was joined by his wife Linda, daughter Lynn, and son-in-law Marshall Carlson. "It was an amazing experience," said Jeff Gordon. "I just cannot believe the strength that he and that family have. Nobody expected them to come over there. They did that on their own. It was so amazing and inspiring that I can't even describe it. There wasn't a dry eye in the place. He's always so concerned with other people and that's what makes him such a great individual and family man. We look up to him in many ways. For Rick to get up there and say the things that he did to really just make everybody feel like family - which we already felt that - but just to take it to a another level, was really great. And then Linda got up there and then Lynn and Marshall said some words."

Phoenix Revival
AVONDALE, AZ. (November 8)- - Dale Earnhardt Jr passed Jeff Gordon with nine laps remaining to win the Checker 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. In winning at Phoenix for the second consecutive season, Earnhardt Jr closed to within 47 points of leader Kurt Busch who finished 10th. Gordon's day looked to be stuck in neutral at the outset as he dropped from his 8th starting position back to 15th. In what seems like a continuing theme, Gordon battled handling problems early in the race. However, a two-tire pit stop on lap 105 vaulted him up to 2nd place. He took the lead from Elliott Sadler on lap 125 and remained there until a caution flag on lap 143. Gordon dropped to 12th due to other staying on the track when he pitted. He received a break of good fortune after a long green flag run on lap 225. Just as he finished his pit stop, Terry Labonte spun off turn four to bring out the caution. He was able to remain on the lead lap and inherited the lead when the top runners came to pit road. In clean air, the DuPont Chevrolet was a different animal compared to when it was mired in race traffic. Gordon pulled away but a late caution with 30 laps to go for Matt Kenseth's blown engine bunched the field. On fresher tires, Earnhardt Jr was able to make the winning pass on Gordon. On the final lap, Ryan Newman was able to pull inside of Gordon to take second place. Gordon finished third-- his best career finish at the track-- and moved up to second in the points standings. "We needed it to go green the whole way," Gordon said. "It was great pit strategy by Robbie Loomis because I didn't think we had any shot at winning this race today. We got out of sequence that paid off for us and we came home third. I thought I could hold off Ryan Newman there at the end. I got real tight off of Turn 2 and he got a run on me and there wasn't anything I could do. I tried to race him on the outside, but we'll take third today."

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