A Gordons-only front row: Jeff first, Robby second

Food City 500 pole-sitter breaks track record

Auto Racing

March 23, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

BRISTOL, Tenn. - Jeff Gordon seems to have an innate ability to come through when the chips are down.

Winston Cup observers are speculating on Gordon's slow start this season and pondering his emotional state as he deals with the fact that his wife of seven years has sued him for divorce. Gordon, however, showing no signs of distraction took his Chevrolet onto Bristol Motor Speedway's tricky half-mile oval on a cold afternoon yesterday and won the pole for tomorrow's Food City 500 with a track-record run of 127.216 mph.

"This is gratifying," said Gordon. "I think the team deserves it. I kind of laugh at things because, except for Las Vegas, we've run well enough to get top fives. ... Everybody expects us to be up their leading laps every race. But rules have changed, and with those rule changes, things were taken away from us that we had before. Our team is as good as ever. We just haven't been able to show it.

"A win would do great things in a lot of different areas. And I'm glad to be at Bristol, where the make of car you have doesn't make a difference. Here, it's all about driver, team and pit stops."

Robby Gordon, in a Chevrolet, will start on the outside of the front row after a run of 126.4787.

For Robby Gordon, the front row was also gratifying, as he continues to adjust to being part of the Richard Childress team.

"Gil Martin, my crew chief, has done an excellent job," said Robby Gordon. "We're working together every weekend, getting a little bit better with the chemistry."

Together, they've discovered Robby Gordon needs to practice a few laps in qualifying mode before actually qualifying.

"Otherwise, I seem to be a little cautious," said Robby Gordon. "So we went out this morning and ran some laps between qualifying and race set up and got comfortable with the race track."

It obviously worked, and Childress said he has noticed improvement in Robby Gordon every week.

"He's really coming around," said Childress. "He's really good, and you're going to start seeing that. The biggest thing is he and Gil are talking more and understanding more."

Robby Gordon's appearance on the outside of the front row didn't surprise Jeff Gordon.

"To do well on this race track, you have to be aggressive, and I've always thought he was an aggressive race car driver," said Jeff Gordon.

The two Gordons have had their share of misadventures, the last time in New Hampshire in the last race of last season. In that race, Jeff Gordon thought Robby Gordon had taken liberties with his car's rear end and responded by ramming Robby Gordon's car the first chance he got. The result was to take away any chance of winning he had, while Robby Gordon went on to victory.

They started beside each other, back in the pack, at Las Vegas without incident, and both said yesterday that they were perfectly comfortable racing each other.

"Robbie and I are fine," said Jeff Gordon. "I work hard at putting things like that behind me. And I try not to hold any grudges. We're starting on the front row, and I have the preferred line [inside]. I'll race him the same way he races me."

Robby Gordon said nearly the same thing, adding: "I have a lot of respect for Jeff as a race car driver. They beat us today, and now we'll work hard to beat them on Sunday. It's going to be a long race. I know the best place to run is the bottom of the track, and Jeff has the inside. I'll just slide in behind him and wait for my chance."

It helps, he said, to be starting at the front at this short track.

Earlier, NASCAR announced it was changing the design of pit road. Instead of having the top qualifiers pitting on the front stretch and the bottom half of the field pitting on the backstretch, which has always been seen as a disadvantage for the lower-qualifying cars, pit road will be one long, continuous circuit. It is being viewed with mixed feelings.

Some, like Robby Gordon, think it "will make it a little more equal for everybody," while others, like Jeff Gordon, believe it creates new handicaps.

"In my mind, the race started today," Jeff Gordon said. "I said I've got to improve my qualifying, and we did that today, and by doing so, we assured ourselves good track position and a good pit position. I didn't make any mistakes today. I've made them before, but not today."

NOTE: Busch Series rookie Scott Riggs earned the pole for today's Channellock 250. He drove his Ford 126.270 mph around the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway to become the first rookie to win a pole this season. The last to do it was Greg Biffle at Gateway International Raceway, July 20, 2001.

(Qualifying, 3c)

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