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Time for the 'other Gordon' to shine?

6/25/2004

SONOMA, Calif. -- Robby Gordon figured this was the perfect
place to test his car -- Infineon Raceway, site of Sunday's NASCAR
race on a road course in scenic wine-growing country.

Gordon dominated and won last year's Dodge/Save Mart 350 on the
same 1.99-mile, 10-turn circuit, then won in August at Watkins
Glen, N.Y.

"We are pretty confident we have the road course game dialed
in, but there is always room for improvement,'' Gordon said.

"Some people asked me why we were going out there to test, but
it just made sense,'' he said. "Practice makes perfect, right?
Plus, we work all year long turning left, and to get one of these
3,400-pound stock cars to turn right is completely different and it
also just helped me get back into the shifting groove.''

Gordon said his Richard Childress Racing team concentrated on
gear boxes and transmissions while using one of his handful of
official NASCAR Nextel Cup tests.

Gordon also felt out the newly paved track that is expected to
yield a qualifying record on Friday.

"We have a good baseline that won both races last year to fall
back on,'' he said. "We are just trying to improve from that, and
you always have to keep improving in this sport. The minute you let
up, a bunch of them will pass you real quick because it is just
that competitive.''

A win at Infineon would be a big boost for Gordon and his No. 31
Chevrolet team. He goes into the race 20th in the Cup standings
and, more important, 293 points out of 10th place and 666 behind
series leader Jimmie Johnson.

With NASCAR's new "Chase for the Championship,'' the top 10 and
any other drivers within 400 points of the leader after 26 races
will get have the opportunity to race for the title over the final
10 events. Sunday's race will be the 16th of the season, so time is
starting to work against Gordon.

The road courses present a big opportunity for Gordon, who has
been playing catch-up since crashing at Daytona and Rockingham in
the first two races.

"We've been trying to come back every weekend, and it always
seems like when you get behind, you end up making more mistakes
because you are trying so much harder,'' he said.

Gordon said he expects to make up some ground on the leaders
Sunday.

"Some of the other drivers currently ranked higher than us tend
to struggle on road courses,'' he said. "So, if everything plays
in our favor, we could make up 40 to 50 points on some of those top
guys right now.

"If you look at two races like that and add them together, with
Watkins Glen coming up, that could mean almost 100 additional
points from where we are right now.''

Rusty Wallace, another of NASCAR's better road racers, also
tested at Infineon with Gordon and several other drivers on June 8.
He said Gordon remains the man to beat.

"The 31 car put a major spanking on all of us out there last
year and that's a good team to compare yourself with,'' Wallace
said. "I guess you could say we were impressed enough with what we
had this time around that we'd dare to compare ourselves with the
best this time around.''

One thing both Gordon and Wallace agreed on, though, is that the
track qualifying record of 1 minute, 16.522 seconds, set last year
by road racing specialist Boris Said, is going to fall.

Gordon is more concerned about the race than qualifying, though.

"Road racing does bring the driver out a bit more, but there
are a lot of things that also come into play,'' he said. "You have
to have a pit crew that can get you in and out of the pits without
losing five positions. You have to get good fuel mileage, manage
your tires and maintain track position.

"The fastest car doesn't always win the race. It is about being
on top of your game across the board to win the race.''