Time for the 'other Gordon' to shine?
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.''
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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