"Kulwicki-Type Day" for Gordon and No. 7 Harrah's Chevy Not Reflected in Finishing Order ATLANTA, Ga., March 20, 2006 -- The comparisons started coming just after the conclusion of the rain-delayed Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway...
"Kulwicki-Type Day" for Gordon and No. 7 Harrah's Chevy Not Reflected in Finishing Order
ATLANTA, Ga., March 20, 2006 -- The comparisons started coming just after the conclusion of the rain-delayed Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway Monday.
Robby Gordon, while dejected with his team's 28th-place finish in the Harrah's Chevrolet after a race where he displayed both a dominating car and driving performance, still managed a brief smile while receiving a steady stream of compliments and congratulatory remarks after the race.
Of all the compliments, one stood out from the others.
"Someone came up to me after the race and said 'that was the greatest single-car team performance since the days of Alan Kulwicki,'" he said. "I know we didn't get the finish that we had hoped for or even deserved, but to be compared to Alan in any form or fashion was a tremendous compliment, and it told me that people knew we were there. I think we had the car to beat."
"When we started this program, we said that we hoped to accomplish what Alan did, and that was one of the reasons we went with the No. 7 for our team -- as a tribute to Alan and a goal to reach for. We're still a young team and have a long way to go to accomplish what he did, but we're a lot closer today than we were a year ago."
Kulwicki won the NASCAR Cup Championship in 1992 by racking up two wins, 11 top-fives and 17 top-10s. He was killed the following season in a plane crash while on approach to Tri-Cities Regional Airport near Bristol, Tenn.
The Kulwicki-type day started for Gordon in the 36th position and finished by surrendering his third-place spot with 15 laps remaining in order to take on a splash of fuel while the rest of the leaders were able to go the distance without coming to pit road. Adding insult to injury, Gordon was assessed a pass-through penalty by NASCAR for entering pit road too fast, which ultimately relegated him to finishing one lap behind the leaders.
"We worked really hard today," Gordon said. "I can say one thing: there isn't anyone in this garage that has worked harder than we have to be competitive. For a one-car team to be able to run with these guys, I'm proud of my guys and proud of what we're doing. I'm just disappointed with the result we got today."
As the checkered flag waved, the necessary fuel stop turned a potential victory into a 28th-place finish, hardly a reflection of the commanding performance displayed throughout the 500-mile event.
At the start, Gordon blasted past 11 cars in less than 10 laps before the first caution flag. A mere seven laps later, the No. 7 Harrah's Monte Carlo SS was in the top 10 and continued to climb the board thanks to Crew Chief Greg Erwin's calls for wedge and air pressure adjustments to relieve the race car's tight conditions.
With each lightning-fast pass, competitors continued to fall victim to Gordon who broke into the top five by lap 95. But as luck would have it, less than 20 laps later the No. 7 Harrah's Chevy began to chatter its front tires and lose front grip due to the fact that the right-front tire was worn through to the chords and losing air pressure.
Adding insult to injury, a caution for debris was thrown while the No. 7 was on pit road.
"I was driving pretty aggressively out there, but I wasn't really worried about tires today," Gordon said. "We kept loosening the car up and we got it to where it was drivable. It was real good on the long runs."
Back on track and one-lap down, Gordon began his second back-of-the-pack charge from 31st position. After a decisive pass of leader Tony Stewart, Gordon gained the lap back during the fifth caution for debris and returned to the 1.5-mile track making up ground quickly when disaster struck -- again. On lap 193, John Slusher, catch can man and trainer of the No. 7 pit crew, was hit on pit road by the No. 41 driven by Reed Sorenson. Slusher was taken to the infield care center and released with no injuries and would actually return to his duties for the team's final two stops.
"Pit road was tight all day," Gordon said. "On one of our first stops, we were blocked in by the No. 10 and lost some track position. It was something we had to work around throughout the race. We're all thankful that John wasn't hurt during the stop and the fact that he even went back over the wall proves how dedicated and tough he and the others on our team are."
Focusing on the task at hand, Gordon again picked off 11 cars in 10 laps and worked his way as high as third with less than 25 laps to go after stopping for fresh tires and adjustments. At lap 302, Gordon radioed that he was again experiencing a vibration on the right front. After seven tense laps of hopes for a caution, the No. 7 was on pit road for much needed fuel and four tires.
"I've got the worst luck in the world," Gordon said. "Obviously I'm disappointed and the guys are disappointed, but they've done an awesome job of getting us competitive this year. To run that many laps and have a 28th-place finish just blows me away. It shows just how competitive NASCAR racing is. But this will definitely be our Texas car. It'll be good for us there."
Leaving the speedways behind, Gordon will make his season-debut with Menards sponsorship at the bull ring of Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. EST.