The magic isn't there for Gordon, and he's trying to figure out why

Updated: August 18, 2008, 11:34 AM ET

Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR

Finishing 29th is not quite the day at Watkins Glen Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 team have come to expect.

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Jeff Gordon finished 29th at Watkins Glen, which is a little like saying Michael Phelps finished seventh in the 200-meter butterfly.

Not going to happen, except it did happen Sunday for Gordon. He has four victories on the challenging road course, but he wasn't close to challenging for a win this time.

"We've lost that magic that we had at one time," Gordon said. "We have absolutely missed our road course program. And we even went and tested and I thought we were going to be pretty good. We were good on our short runs in testing, but we just didn't make enough long runs and that's what we're going to have to work on."

This isn't just about road course woes for Gordon. He climbed out of his No. 24 Chevrolet Sunday and immediately had a team meeting in the hauler.

"I can't believe we are where we are in the points [sixth], to be honest with you," Gordon said. "If it weren't for us having such an awesome team, we wouldn't be where we are. As a team, we know we've got to get the cars running better."

It isn't that Gordon is running terribly. It just looks terrible in comparison to last year. At this point in 2007 Gordon was on top of the standings with four victories and a 344-point lead. Now he is 500 points back and hasn't won a race.

If the Chase started today, Gordon would begin the playoff 80 points behind leader Kyle Busch. Sunday's result at The Glen didn't make Gordon feel any better about his chances of winning a race and closing the gap before the playoff begins.

"It's miserable," Gordon said. "It's about as frustrating as you can get as a team and as a driver."

Gordon's problems Sunday started when he lost radio contact with his crew before the first pit stop. NASCAR helped out his team by giving him a black flag to let him know he needed to pit.

"We probably lost 20 seconds because of that," Gordon said. "We finally got in there and shoot, we came out and we were like 30th. But the car was a struggle already and the last thing we needed was to lose that much track position. There wasn't much we could do about it other than fight."

A fluke deal like that one can happen to any team. But Gordon knows something is missing overall, and the team needs to figure it out if they hope to compete for the title when the Chase starts next month.

"It's not any one person's fault,'' Gordon said. "We're all in it together. We have some work to do."

-- Terry Blount

Nationwide Series: Ambrose earns his way with first win

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- While he wasn't asked daily when he'd win a race like a certain female IndyCar driver was until earlier this year, Marcos Ambrose was feeling plenty of pressure to reach Victory Lane in NASCAR's Nationwide Series. So it's quite understandable that a great sense of relief washed over the driver Saturday at Watkins Glen International.

Now, much like Danica Patrick -- who was jokingly asked when she'd win again -- Ambrose faces a new question: When will he win on an oval? In the grand scheme, it's a better question than being asked if he'd ever win a NASCAR race.

One thing for certain is that Ambrose won't forget how he made the move from being Australia's V-8 Supercar champion in 2003-04 to a winner in the United States. Ford officials were understandably high on the affable driver and helped bring him to the attention of some of their NASCAR owners.

He credits Tad and Jodi Geschickter for "plucking me out of nowhere." The two owned ST Motorsports, which was renamed JTG Racing before former owner and now broadcaster Brad Daugherty bought into what's now known at JTG Daugherty Racing.

"I met [the Geschickters] at a hot, dusty day at [O'Reilly Raceway Park], I was hanging around like a bad smell until they gave me a test, and here we are," Ambrose said. "Brad's come on board. We're a team that's moving forward, and I feel like we needed to win to justify moving forward like we're going to in 2009. That's just a real weight off my shoulders. I feel like we're ready to really do something special and it's just a great day."

Ambrose was referring to the team's move to a full-time Sprint Cup Series effort next year, a large undertaking. He showed again that he's ready for the Cup Series, at least on the road courses, with a third-place run for the Wood Brothers on Sunday.

But the Nationwide race will be hard to beat for Ambrose and the Geschickters anytime soon. This was their first win since Jeff Fuller won at Bristol on Aug. 23, 1996, and was quite the reward for owners who have hung in there as the sport is increasingly dominated by Cup teams also fielding Nationwide Series entries.

The owners were quick to credit sponsors Kingsford and Clorox for sticking with the program over the years in an era where sponsorship is increasingly tough to secure. Tad Geschickter said a trophy will be heading off to corporate headquarters in California shortly.

"We were just at a Kingsford sales meeting -- Kingsford and Clorox sales meetings -- about two weeks ago," Jodi Geschickter said. "They have embraced Marcos and he loves them, and he said, 'You know, the relationship that we have, we have to win for these people, we just have to do it.' And, true to his word, here we are a couple of weeks later, and we're doing it. And I couldn't be any happier.

"I guess nine laps from the end I saw the guys in the pits, and they said, 'We may have a tire going down.' And I thought, 'I just can't believe it. I can't believe it. No way.' But, he stayed out, it wasn't a flat tire, guys started running out of gas, I thought, 'Maybe the cards are going to fall our way this time. Maybe it's going to happen.' Not until he takes the checkered flag do you really believe. We're really thrilled to be here. You just can't imagine what it's like."

Since the race was on ABC, it wasn't carried in Tasmania, but his father was in a part of Australia that did receive the broadcast. Ambrose knew he was going to be busy, but took it with his normal dose of humor.

"I guess the phone is going to be running pretty hot for the next 15 hours because I'm going to have to explain the race for the 25,000 people down there," Ambrose said. "My dad caught the race. He was in the capital city where they get the telecast, and it's 14 hours in front, so it's Sunday morning his time, so he's feeling pretty good for a Sunday morning right now. So many people have an interest in what I'm doing over here in America, a lot of Australian fans.

"Every time I go home, or catch up on e-mails or whatever, they'll ask me why can't I win. So, at least now I can say, 'I have won and just shut up.' I need this win to really justify my move over here to the U.S. I've come from a winning deal down home; big fish in a pretty small pond, to be honest with you, and I've come across and taken on the best in the business here in NASCAR. And today's field was a tough field. There was a lot of really good drivers and really good cars, and a lot of Cup teams in this race. So, we didn't luck into this, we deserve it. We worked hard for it, and we do deserve it and we should feel proud of it."

-- Mark Ashenfelter

Craftsman Truck Series: Benson bags third straight win to extend points lead

Victory Lane was about the last place Johnny Benson expected to spend late Saturday night at Nashville. Then the Bill Davis Racing No. 23 team found resourcefulness to go with all the speed it has had for the past couple months.

Benson won his third consecutive Craftsman Truck Series race and fourth in five races with a new Toyota Tundra that was lousy before the green flag and stayed lousy over the early laps on the 1.33-mile concrete oval. He qualified 16th, his worst starting spot in 10 races, and had to work through the field from even further back after restarting 22nd from a bad Lap 66 yellow-flag pit stop.

And the operative word for the 2006 series runner-up was work.

"It just was real inconsistent. This was a new truck which I could never get a handle on it," Benson said. "[Crew chief] Trip [Bruce] made a couple of adjustments. I kept telling him it was horrible until after about 30 laps on the tires -- then it got to where I felt I could do what I wanted."

Only at the end did Benson finally get to the front, taking the lead from Roush Fenway's Erik Darnell and holding on for three laps to win. They were the only three laps he led, after leading 43 laps in a win two weeks ago at O'Reilly Raceway Park outside Indianapolis and the most laps in wins at Kentucky and Milwaukee.

"I didn't think it was possible, to tell you the truth," Benson said.

Benson tripled his points lead from 15 to 45 over Ron Hornaday Jr. of Kevin Harvick Inc., who did little wrong at Nashville in finishing fifth and leading laps. The defending champion should continue to hang around, but the third-place Chevrolet of Matt Crafton has a little more work to do, dropping 60 points from 31 to 91 back of Benson after an 11th-place run. It was just his second finish outside the top-10 in eight races.

Next up for the trucks is another Tennessee concrete oval, the bullring at Bristol on Wednesday, Aug. 20. Benson, as if he weren't on enough of a roll already, is the defending champion.

-- John Schwarb

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Mark Garrow recaps another win for Kyle Busch at Watkins Glen and updates some contract news and rumors for a few drivers.
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Standings

Racing Resources Says …

Sprint Cup

Kyle Busch

Busch

  • Kyle Busch won the Centurion Boats at the Glen at Watkins Glen International. He won from the first-place starting position, the ninth race at Watkins Glen won from that position. Busch became the first driver to score three victories on road courses in a single season winning at Mexico (Nationwide Series), Infineon (Sprint Cup) and Watkins Glen. Busch scored his 12th-career NSCS victory in 136 career races. He remained first in the points standings with a 242-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards. Busch's last Cup victory came at Chicagoland three races ago. Busch has won four of the last seven Cup races.
  • The last five races at the Glen have been won from a top-10 starting position.
  • Busch scored his first victory in four races at Watkins Glen. Busch became the 16th different race winner at Watkins Glen. He led 52 of the 90 laps raced including the final 26 laps. That was the most led by any driver in the race.
  • Busch finished second in the Nationwide Zippo 200 at the Glen on Saturday.
  • Busch has scored eight Cup victories, six Nationwide victories and two Truck Series wins this season. Busch has led 1,131 laps this season, the most among all drivers.
  • Toyota scored their first victory at the Glen. Toyota has nine wins, Chevrolet has five while Dodge and Ford each have four in 2008.
  • Joe Gibbs Racing scored their fifth victory at the Glen.
  • Joe Gibbs Racing has won five of the last seven races at Watkins Glen. Tony Stewart won the other four.
  • Stewart finished second, scoring his 11th top-10 finish in 22 races this season. He tied his best finish in 2008 of second set at Atlanta and the second race at Pocono. Stewart climbed from ninth to seventh in the standings.
  • This was Gibbs' fifth 1-2 finish and second in a row at Watkins Glen.
  • Marcos Ambrose finished third, scoring his first top-5 finish in just three career Cup starts. Ambrose started 43rd in the race.
  • Ambrose scored the first top-5 finish for the Wood Brothers since Ricky Rudd finished fourth at Bristol in August 2005.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (fourth) scored his best finish in two races at Watkins Glen. Montoya finished sixth at Infineon earlier this season.
  • Martin Truex Jr. (fifth) scored his third top-5 finish in 2008. It marked his best finish in six career road course races.
  • Jimmie Johnson finished seventh, posting his fourth top-10 finish in seven races at Watkins Glen. Johnson climbed from fourth to third in the standings.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 22nd, He dropped from second to fourth in the points standings.
  • 22 points separate 12th-place Matt Kenseth from 13th-place Clint Bowyer with four races remaining before the Chase.

Nationwide

Marcos Ambrose

Ambrose

  • Marcos Ambrose won the Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International. Ambrose scored his first career Nationwide Series victory in his 59th career start. He has scored top-15 finishes in the last five races, extending a streak that began at Chicagoland. Ambrose became the 12th different series winner in 2008. He became the 10th different winner in the 15 races at Watkins Glen. Ambrose led five laps, including the final four.
  • Ford posted its fourth win of the 2008 season and just their second in 15 races at Watkins Glen. Toyota has 15 wins, Chevy has five while Dodge has yet to win in 2008.
  • Ambrose won the race due to fuel strategy, when leaders Jeff Burton and Jimmie Johnson ran out of fuel with four laps remaining.
  • Ambrose is the only driver to score top-10 finishes in all three road course races this season. Ambrose finished second at Mexico and third at Montreal.
  • Ambrose is the third first-time winner at Watkins Glen in series history, joining Bill Elliott (1993) and Ron Fellows (1998).
  • Ambrose is the first Australian to win in the series. He is the fourth foreign-born driver to win in the Nationwide Series joining Fellows, Juan Pablo Montoya and Larry Pollard.
  • Kyle Busch finished second. He has finished third or better in his last five NNS starts.
  • Pole winner Dario Franchitti finished fifth, posting his career-best finish.
  • David Ragan (ninth) has scored top-15 finishes in the last 10 races, a streak that began at Nashville in June.
  • The race featured 11 lead changes among seven drivers.
  • The top-10 consisted of four Fords, three Toyotas, two Chevrolets and one Dodge.
  • Brad Keselowski finished sixth and climbed from third to second in the points, passing Carl Edwards, who finished 25th and dropped to third in the standings. Keselowski trails points leader Clint Bowyer by 128 points.

Craftsman Truck

Johnny Benson

Benson

  • Johnny Benson won the Toyota Tundra 200 at Nashville. Benson scored his 13th series victory in his 115th start. He has won the last three races and four of the last five. Benson became the fifth different driver to win three consecutive races in the series. Mike Skinner (1996 and 2007), Ron Hornaday Jr. (1997), Todd Bodine (2005) and Greg Biffle (2000) are the others who won three consecutive races.
  • Benson scored his series-leading fourth win of 2008.
  • Benson became the only repeat winner at Nashville, also winning in 2006.
  • Benson only led the last three laps, passing Erik Darnell.
  • It was the series-leading fifth win for Bill Davis Racing in 2008.
  • It was Toyota's eighth win of 2008. Chevy has five wins, Ford has one and Dodge has one.
  • Benson extended his points lead to 45 over Hornaday.
  • Todd Bodine finished third but failed to win from the pole for the first time in his series career. In each of his last three poles he has gone on to win the race.
  • Colin Braun finished sixth, the highest finishing Raybestos Rookie of Year candidate.
  • Skinner finished 17th, breaking a streak of 10 consecutive top-10 finishes that began at Kansas.
  • The race featured five lead changes among six leaders.
  • The race was slowed seven times for 29 laps.
  • The top 10 consisted of two Fords, four Toyotas, three Chevrolets and one Dodge.

-- Racing Resources