Originally created 06/27/04

Other Gordon man to beat at Sonoma

SONOMA, Calif. -- Jeff Gordon's strategy this week at Infineon Raceway is simple: "Attack, attack, attack."

The four-time NASCAR champion is still getting over last week's 38th-place finish at Michigan, where he led 81 of the first 88 laps before an engine failure ended his day.

And Gordon can't help thinking about finishing 30th at Charlotte, fourth at Pocono and 36th at Dover in the weeks leading up to the Michigan disappointment, leaving him sixth in the Nextel Cup standings heading into Sunday's Dodge/Save Mart 350.

"I'm definitely not happy with the inconsistency of our finishes recently," said Gordon, who will start from the pole Sunday on the scenic wine country road course.

"Except for Charlotte, we've been performing well as a team," he added. "We just don't have the finishes to show for it."

Instead of hanging his head, though, Gordon is more determined than ever to get things turned around right now.

He proved that with his spectacular qualifying effort Friday on the 1.99-mile, 10-turn circuit. Flinging his No. 24 Chevrolet through the turns, Gordon went off course twice but still set a track record while winning his fourth Sonoma pole.

Now Gordon, NASCAR's all-time leading road course winner, will go after his eighth career victory on the tracks with both left and right turns. In 22 career starts on road circuits, Gordon has 13 top fives and two of his three wins here have come from the pole.

In contrast, the other nine drivers in the top 10 in points going into Sunday's race have combined for two wins and 14 top five finishes in a total of 78 starts.

Gordon won six consecutive road course events - another record - beginning with the 1997 race at Watkins Glen, N.Y., and ending here in 2000. Since then, he has finished third, 37th and second here.

"Our road course program was strong during that stretch and it's still strong," he said. "But other teams have stepped up their programs. You can't throw away the two road course events if you expect to compete for the championship."

Some drivers who aren't necessarily thinking about winning the points title are strong contenders in Sunday's race.

Robby Gordon, who won both Cup road races last year, is still a threat even though a disappointing qualifying effort left him 24th in the 43-car field.

"It's going to be a little tougher coming from that far back, but it's a long race and we have a really good car," the defending race winner said. "The main thing is, you have to take care of your car, not knock the fenders off of it trying to get to the front."

That could be difficult for everyone on the newly paved track, where just about everyone has had trouble this week keeping the car on the racing surface.

"There's a lot more grip from the new pavement, but it's still pretty easy to get off track with all the momentum you carry around here," Jeff Gordon said. "Everybody is going to make some mistakes out there, but you have to try to not make any big mistakes."

Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin, two of NASCAR's best road racers, start second and fourth, sandwiched around Kurt Busch.

Wallace, who is second only to Jeff Gordon with six road race victories among active drivers, said he expects to compete for another win on Sunday.

"We've got a great new hot rod and I really like this place," Wallace said. "Last year, we made a big mistake and still came back and got a top 10 finish and I think we've got a better car and a better chance to win this year."

The lineup is also loaded with road racing specialists, like 2003 pole-winner Boris Said, Scott Pruett, Jim Inglebright and Germany's Klaus Graf.

"Most of the NASCAR guys are really good road racers," Said noted. "They aren't going to be intimidated by a couple of guys coming here with part-time rides. But I've got a real good car and a real good team and I think we can be competitive on Sunday."

This race could be a big one for series points leader Jimmie Johnson and runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr., neither of whom has done very well at Infineon.

Johnson's best finish in two races was 17th last year, while Earnhardt has scored no better than last year's 11th-place finish in four tries.


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