SONOMA, Calif. - When Jeff Gordon drove off the circuit during qualifying for the Dodge/Save Mart 350 on Friday, it gave everyone else hope at Infineon Raceway they could beat the road course ace.
Even when he got all four wheels in the dirt coming off the 10th turn, Gordon not only won the pole for Sunday's race, he set the track record.
"When I saw him go off course and he ran (94.303 mph), I swear I thought I could run better," said Rusty Wallace, whose Dodge wound up second at 94.174 mph. "The track just lost grip. When they told me my time, I looked down to see if the emergency brake was on."
The 1.99-mile, 11-turn road course was re-paved since last year and drivers felt the new asphalt would create more grip. But during time trials, the track seemed slippery and it sent several into spins.
"The conditions were a lot tougher than we expected," defending champion Robby Gordon said. "The wind really started blowing there, and that hurt. But the track has lost some grip. You're sliding the cars around now."
Kurt Busch qualified third. And like Wallace, he couldn't understand why he couldn't take advantage of Gordon's off-road excursion.
"I saw Gordon make his mistake and it opened the door for us," he said. "But we weren't good enough."
Gordon said a blown engine last week at Michigan has forced his team to be aggressive for the rest of the season.
"We're not happy about the way things have been going lately," Gordon said. "We're on a mission. All we can do is attack, attack, attack. When I got off track, I didn't get out of the gas. I kept it going."
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.