Crash puts Gordon in 37th spot for start He's in hole as Jarrett qualifies 3rd, Martin 9th

November 16, 1997|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

HAMPTON, Ga. -- When Jeff Gordon arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway yesterday morning, he couldn't wait to get on the track and start fine-tuning his Chevrolet. If he had known how the day would go, he might have stayed in bed.

Before practice was an hour old, Gordon had wrecked. When qualifying for today's NAPA 500 was done, Gordon found himself starting 37th.

"This is not the way we were wanting to start out on the first day of the final race," said Gordon, who averaged 190.673 in his backup car. "Hopefully, we can get all the bad luck out of the way today and go on and race."

Gordon has a 77-point lead in the drivers' standings over Dale Jarrett and 87 over Mark Martin. He needs to finish only 18th in this race to clinch his second career title. But this is the second-worst qualifying effort of his career and puts him at a distinct disadvantage on the 1.5-mile track, where a new surface is expected to make passing difficult.

The pole-sitter for tomorrow's race is Geoff Bodine, who set a track record when his Ford ran 197.478 mph.

Jarrett and Martin also ran well in their Fords and will start third and ninth, respectively.

"I think we're ready to race," Jarrett said. "But this is still a one-groove racetrack, and as fast as we're running, you've got to be able to run the race that you want to run."

Things started going bad for Gordon around 8: 45 a.m. when he was coming down pit road, wiggling the car a bit, warming up the tires. Suddenly, the back end spun around, as if it had hit a piece of ice, and the car slid sideways until its front right fender crashed into Bobby Hamilton's parked car.

"That thing shouldn't have happened," Gordon said. "I blame myself for that. And then in qualifying, we got caught up in some oil or something down there in turn one. But this car is really good. And, if anything, when we get down, we get stronger. Maybe this is a wake-up call."

Bumper-to-bumper race

The 10 closest Winston Cup point races coming into the final:

............. ........... ......... Pre-race .... Post-race

Year Champion ........... Runner-up .. pt. margin .. pt. margin

1. 1979 Richard Petty ... Darrell Waltrip .. +2 ..... 11

2. 1990 Dale Earnhardt .. Mark Martin ...... +6 ..... 26

3. 1980 Earnhardt ....... Cale Yarborough.. -29 ..... 19

4. 1992 Alan Kulwicki ... Bill Elliott .... -30 ..... 10

5. 1996 Terry Labonte ... Jeff Gordon ..... -47 ..... 37

6. 1983 Bobby Allison ... Darrell Waltrip.. +64 ..... 47

7. 1988 Bill Elliott .... Rusty Wallace ... -74 ..... 24

8. 1989 Wallace ......... Earnhardt ....... +79 ..... 12

9. 1981 Waltrip ......... Allison ......... +83 ..... 53

10. 1995 Gordon ......... Earnhardt ...... +147 ..... 34

Pub Date: 11/16/97

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