Leader Gordon wants to cut suspense short

ON MOTOR SPORTS

Auto Racing

October 07, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Winston Cup points leader Jeff Gordon was in a good mood as he talked last week from his home in Florida. With eight races to go, counting today's UAW-GM Quality 500 in Charlotte, N.C., Gordon realizes he needs a good finish today, but he also is starting to think about wrapping up the title.

"To me, if we have to wrap it up in 10-degree weather, in six feet of snow at New Hampshire, that's fine with me," he said. "No matter when, where or how, I'll be happy. But it does take a toll on your nerves when it comes down to the final race."

Going into today's race, Gordon leads Ricky Rudd by 222 points. The only way Rudd can catch up is if Gordon has a very bad day or two. If Gordon should finish last in a race and Rudd win it, the point swing would be a maximum of 151, which would surely put a different slant on the outcome.

Certainly, it could happen. If not today, next weekend at Martinsville, where the short track offers ample opportunity for mishap, or the week after that, at Talladega, where 43 cars will be bunched two and three abreast over 500 excitement-packed miles.

Gordon has found feast and famine at Lowe's Motor Speedway. And he recalls clearly how hard it can be to wrap up a title.

The second of his three championships was won by only 14 points over Dale Jarrett in the last race in 1997.

"It was in Atlanta and it was a nightmare," Gordon said. "It was one of the worst experiences I've ever had. Oh, my goodness. I don't know if you remember, but I do.

"I crashed on pit road [the day before the race] and had to go to a backup car and I wasn't fast all weekend, anyway. I was struggling even with the primary car. I had to finish 17th or better - and I finished 17th.

"We had a right rear tire chunk during the race. It separated [came apart] with 10, 15 laps to go. We were running like, say, 14th and looking pretty good and then all of a sudden, this happens.

"So it was like every single lap of that race I was stressed to the max. Trying to focus on driving the race car and at the same time knowing my competitors were up there leading the race and possibly going to win and I'm back here struggling to get the finish I need."

Some of the best lessons are learned the hard way, Gordon said.

"We did learn," he said. "We learned to wrap that thing up."

So, if he can have what he wants today, Gordon said a top-10 finish would be just fine.

CART race tight

Driving for Team Rahal, Kenny Brack likely wishes he was in Gordon's position of preserving a 222-point lead. But as Brack goes for his first Championship Auto Racing Teams title, he finds Penske driver Gil de Ferran just six points back, with four races to go.

"We've been in the points lead for most of the season and have managed to lose it at one point," he said before today's race in Houston.

"It's a championship that's very unpredictable and very difficult. We just have to push on. ... For sure, the last race being a 500-mile race, you want to be in the points lead going into that race if possible because anything can happen."

After today's race, there will be stops in Monterey, Calif.; Surfers Paradise, Australia; and Fontana, Calif., where the Toyota 500 wraps up the season.

"The Penske drivers are tough," Brack said, when asked if it is only de Ferran he is worried about. "And Michael [Andretti] is going to be there. I'd be surprised if anyone else would come in to play."

Brack leads de Ferran, 147-141. Andretti is third with 125 points and de Ferran's teammate, Helio Castroneves, 123 points, is fourth.

Track plans shape up

The first major steps in constructing the road-racing circuit on the grounds of RFK Stadium for the 2002 National Grand Prix are under way. Design expert Lance Shafer of Shafer Event Management, Inc., has begun planning the temporary circuit.

"This track design will be very exciting for drivers and fans," said Shafer, who expects the course to allow cars to reach speeds up to 170 mph.

"We will have a number of passing areas where drivers will have an adequate amount of room to overtake other cars. We are also going to make sure that fans will have the best sight lines possible."

The inaugural race, July 21, will feature the American Le Mans Series for sports cars.

Winding down

Hagerstown Speedway has crowned champions in four divisions and has just two more races on its schedule this season.

Odenton's Roy Deese Jr. won the Late Model title over Hagerstown's Nathan Durboraw (2631-2611); Marvin Winters of Mercersburg, Pa., won the Late Model Sportsman class; Bruce Leibowitz of Reisterstown won the Pure Stock title; and Josh Angle of State Line, Pa., won the 4 Cylinder Pure Stock crown in the tightest points race, beating Marcius Vanmeter of Cresaptown by nine points.

Next Sunday afternoon, at least 15 Late Model champions are expected to compete in the 15th Annual Hoosier Tire Mid-Atlantic Race of Champions.

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