Originally created 04/14/02

Gordon fighting back



MARTINSVILLE, Va. - The first two months of the racing season have been tough on Jeff Gordon. His race car has been a handful and his personal life has been a wreck.

He's endured two of the most-difficult months of his life, but now he's fighting back.

Whether it be in a South Florida courtroom or a bullring known as the Martinsville Speedway, Gordon is trying to recapture control of his life, on and off the raceway.

In a span of seven days, Gordon finished a season-best second place at the Texas Motor Speedway, filed a counter suit in his divorce and will start the pole for today's Virginia 500 (1 p.m., FX).

"In the past few weeks, things have been going our way pretty good," he said.

The defending NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion, whose life and career have been characterized as a modern-day version of Camelot, showed us all the wind really blows hardest at the top of the mountain.

Until last Monday's race, his only top-five finish in the first seven races, Gordon seemed to have lost his magical touch with his Chevrolet Monte Carlo. His average finish before Texas was 14.8. Worse yet, nothing his Hendrick Motorsports team tried seemed to work.

And if that wasn't enough, his storybook marriage with Brooke, a former Miss Winston whom he met in Victory Lane, was publicly crashing.

In court papers filed last month in Palm Beach County, Fla., she said her husband, long considered the poster child for the sport, was guilty of "marital misconduct" and that she deserved half of everything he's earned as the richest driver in motorsports history.

Gordon has managed to survive the tumultuous first two months and now he's getting closer to being back to full speed. His lap of 94.181 mph in time trials was vintage. His car was 25th-fastest in practice, but his team made necessary changes and Gordon did the rest.

"That second place finish at Texas definitely did a lot for the morale and the momentum of this race team," Gordon said. "I hope we can continue that the rest of the weekend and the rest of the season for that matter. We needed that momentum booster (at Texas) and I think that will help us at Martinsville. Right now we're looking to latch onto anything we can to get our team sparked up. I think this team is as solid as it's ever been and we'll get our momentum going.

"I think we've got a real good shot at winning the race."

Martinsville is a relatively-flat, .526-mile oval that turns races into a pair of 800-foot drag races and a couple U-turns on every lap. The best way to make a pass is to bump and run - to knock the lead car out of the way.

Gordon's DuPont Chevrolet already is battle-tested. It's the same car he deliberately used to crash into Robby Gordon last November at New Hampshire in retaliation for Robby Gordon's aggressive pass to win the race.

"We had to change the front end," Gordon said. "It didn't have any front end left on it after I drove into Robby. This is like a small Loudon (New Hampshire) in a lot of ways."

Bobby Hamilton will start on the outside pole. His Chevrolet was clocked at 94.092 mph.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is third at 94.064 mph, followed by Terry Labonte in fourth at 93.985, Rusty Wallace in fifth at 93.933, Bill Elliott in sixth at 93.910, Kevin Harvick in seventh at 93.812, Tony Stewart in eighth at 93.733, Jimmy Spencer in ninth at 93.724 and Ryan Newman in 10th at 93.701.

Gordon is a three-time winner at Martinsville. He is very comfortable when victory requires a delicate balance of speed and rugged determination.

"This is the kind of racetrack I grew up on," he said.

Now that his racing career seems to be up to speed, he's working hard to get his personal life back on track.

He filed paperwork this Wednesday in Palm Beach County that disputes his wife's claim of marital misconduct. He also said she doesn't deserve half of his assets since he engaged in a "hazardous, life-threatening occupation" to earn it.

"Due to the Husband's extraordinary contributions to the acquisition of the funds as a result of his hazardous, life-threatening occupation, the Husband claims that he should be entitled to greater than 50 percent interest in the net marital estate," according to his counter suit.

Gordon, as expected, has refused to talk about his problems away from the track. But it hasn't stopped him from working on the problems at the track.

"We've gone back to an old style combination we've won with," he said. "We've had our problems this year. But a second place last week at Texas - a place that hasn't been very good to us - is a big momentum booster for us in helping turn our season."

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.net.