Gordon a true racing maverick

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SONOMA, Calif. --- In between practice sessions last week at Michigan International Speedway, most drivers were in their motor homes eating lunch and taking naps. Robby Gordon, however, was at his hauler working his cell phone.

Robby Gordon raced Sunday at Michigan without a sponsor and will be without any backing in this week's road course race at Sonoma, Calif. He is 31st in the Sprint Cup Series standings.  Special
Special
Robby Gordon raced Sunday at Michigan without a sponsor and will be without any backing in this week's road course race at Sonoma, Calif. He is 31st in the Sprint Cup Series standings.

On one call he was tracking down lost parts. On another he was checking the progress of his road-racing car for Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at the Infineon Raceway. Then he talked to somebody about sponsorship.

Driving a car in the Sprint Cup Series is a full-time job. So is being a car owner. Gordon is doing both.

"I'm a racer; this is what I do," he said. "Golf doesn't interest me. I do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All I ever think about is making the car go faster."

Few do it like Gordon. Owner-driver teams have come and gone in stock car racing, few with any real success. That doesn't bother Gordon, because he's spent his entire racing career doing things his own way.

While NASCAR always will be a follow-the-leader sport, Gordon begs to be different. Every team that's won this year is part of a multi-car operation; Gordon still goes it alone. Others have posh million-dollar motor homes; Gordon has a converted tractor trailer. Money is no object for many teams; Gordon squeezes every penny out of every dollar.

He turned a trailer into a condominium on wheels. He uses it to entertain sponsors and their guests. There's a master suite and an observation deck on top. It's pulled by a tractor and generally doesn't have the kind of mechanical problems or poor fuel mileage as a motor home -- and it's one-third the cost.

When it comes to racing, Gordon doesn't cut corners. Others often are content with playing it safe and racing for points. Gordon is consumed by only one thing -- winning.

"We're aggressive," he said. "You have to be to survive in this sport. The really good guys are aggressive. Tony Stewart is aggressive. Kyle Busch is aggressive. But you have to be methodical and not reckless. That's tough sometimes."

Gordon goes into Sunday's race ranked 31st in the standings. He's had a tough season so far, with just one top 10 finish in 15 races. His strength, however, is racing on the road courses, so he's considered a favorite this week.

Two of his three career wins have come on road courses. He should have had another win at Watkins Glen, N.Y., in 2004, but a battery for an in-car camera for television caught on fire.

He led 48 of 110 laps last year, but lost to Juan Pablo Montoya in fuel mileage strategy.

"We've been waiting for the road courses," said team engineer Bobby Burrell. "We're loaded for bear."

The 1.99-mile road course comes at a good time for Gordon. He raced last week at Michigan without a sponsor and will be without any backing this week. A tough economy, coupled with his place in the standings, has made it tough on Gordon. But he won't stop. He can't stop.

"It surprises me that we have an all-black car, especially with our record on the road courses and how competitive we were last year at Sonoma," Gordon said. "It probably shows you how tough the marketplace is out there right now as far as people spending money going racing and using it as a marketing outlet. We probably didn't knock on the right doors as a company."

Gordon's maverick approach has some thinking he tries too hard. Going fast and taking chances aren't the problem; going too fast and taking too many chances sometimes has been a problem.

"It's a bad rap," Burrell said. "We need more drivers like Robby. We have a lot of drivers in this sport, but Robby's a racer. He's really into it and that rubs off on everyone on this race team. We know it's going to get better."

One cell phone call at a time.

TOYOTA/SAVE MART 350 (RACE NO. 16 OF 36)


WHERE: Infineon Raceway at Sonoma, Calif.


WHEN: 5 p.m. Sunday


TRACK DIMENSIONS: 12-turn, 1.99-mile road course.


BROADCAST: Television -- 3:30 p.m. TNT; Radio -- 4 p.m. Performance Racing Network, Sirius Satellite Radio 128


LAST YEAR'S WINNER: Juan Pablo Montoya


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