Prediction: Slick Gordon will win without Evernham

On Motor Sports

October 03, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Jeff Gordon haters are dancing.

Gordon's crew chief, Ray Evernham, is gone, given his asked-for release.

Because of that, Gordon haters think the three-time Winston Cup Champion is done.

And there is no denying the success Evernham and Gordon have shared. Together, they won three championships, 47 races and more than $30 million. From November 1992 until last weekend in Dover, they were the 1990s' most successful twosome.

Many believe Evernham was the wizard behind their success. They see the slick Gordon as a whiner who depended on Evernham for everything from a winning race car to psychoanalysis while he was driving. For years, people have viewed Evernham's ability to do his job the same way they've viewed seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt's ability to do his.

Earnhardt, they said, "can see air," that's how good he has been.

Evernham? His ability to handle the race car, to make the perfect call, is "almost like black magic."

Gordon?

"I'd like to see what he'd do without Ray Evernham," Rusty Wallace said just a few months ago, echoing the desires of many Gordon critics in the grandstands.

I say, let those anti-Gordon fans dance. Let Wallace rub his hands in joyful anticipation, because they're about to start finding out something about Gordon's talent, and they may not like it.

Even car owner Bill Davis, who brought Gordon into the Busch Grand National Series and was then dumped when Gordon got a better offer from car owner Rick Hendrick, says it doesn't matter who Gordon works with, or even when he works, because he has so much talent.

And I agree with car owner Felix Sabates, who has seen Gordon beat his cars and drivers weekly.

"At the end of the day," Sabates said, "the drivers are the ones driving the race. I think the driver makes 80 percent of the race team."

Put Gordon in his usually reliable race car with a respectable crew chief, and I bet he's going to win. I also think Evernham will build a successful team, and he'll win, too -- but not as quickly and perhaps not as often as Gordon.

You might wonder why.

My answer would be that Gordon has not only his own great, innate driving ability but also all the knowledge that Evernham drilled into him over their years together.

It's mindful of another old debate: Which is more important, the race car or the driver?

Enjoy the dance, and let the debate begin.

Short-track chance

Different drivers have won the last 11 Winston Cup short-track events -- at Bristol, Tenn., and Martinsville and Richmond, Va.

So it shouldn't be a surprise if almost every guy thinks he has a better-than-average chance to win the season's last short-track race at Martinsville Speedway today.

"I think that it's just that the competition is that good now," said Winston Cup points leader Dale Jarrett. "You talk about parity in other sports, I think we have that much here that when you get on short tracks, where handling is the total key. You bring more people into the mix, and that allows more opportunities for others to win."

Over the 11 races, Gordon, Bobby Hamilton, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace, John Andretti, Jarrett, Earnhardt and Tony Stewart have found victory lane.

Nuts and bolts

A championship points battle is shaping up at Maryland International Raceway today in the finals of the IHRA's eighth ExpressAutoparts.Com President's Cup Nationals. With two races remaining, Jay Turner has a 19-point lead over 1998 World Champ Johnny Mancuso in the Nitro-Harley Division. Gates open at 9 a.m. Sportsman eliminations begin at 9: 30 a.m., and the final eliminations begin at noon.

The 17th Race Car Extravaganza will be held from noon to 5 p.m. next Sunday at the Harford County Air Park in Aldino.

Highlighting the day will be the fifth WXCY/STA-BIL East Coast Regional lawn-mower race. It will be the first points race of the 2000 season. Also featured on the day will be dirt track, vintage and drag cars, trucks, custom street rods, antique cars and go-karts.

Rick Mast continues to be the only Winston Cup driver to have finished every race in 1999.

Drag racer Rick Santos has won his third straight Federal-Mogal Dragster World Championship.

"It's just amazing to win three consecutive World Championships," said Santos, who took the title by winning five divisional events and five more national events. "This is a tough, competitive class, but [my team] has been unbelievable this year. We ended with a perfect season."

NASCAR Rocks, the 32-city tour that stopped in Columbia this summer, raised $53,000 for Give Kids the World, a 51-acre, non-profit resort for terminally ill children near Orlando, Fla.

Three-time Winston Cup champion Darrell Waltrip, who will retire at the end of next season, will be one of 12 athletes honored Tuesday at the 14th Great Sports Legends Dinner, which benefits the Buoniconti Fund in support of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.

Waltrip will join sports legends Jack Nicklaus, Martina Navratilova, Julie Krone, Jerry Lucas, Jim Palmer, John Thompson, Olga Korbut, Marcus Allen, Pat LaFontaine, Dan O'Brien and Frank Gifford. Gifford also will be master of ceremonies.

On Saturday, Richard Petty will announce a new major sponsor on his famous No. 43 race car. Cheerios is coming on board. STP, the company long synonymous with the Petty name, will remain, but its logo will become less dominant in 2000.

If Jarrett finishes sixth or better in each of the seven remaining races, he will win the Winston Cup championship, no matter what anyone else does.

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