Bristol, Tennessee. (March 24, 2000) - Among the many things the fans of NASCAR look forward to on the Winston Cup circuit is the racing at Bristol Motor Speedway. High banks, constant action and laps in the 15-second range. Robby Gordon...
Bristol, Tennessee. (March 24, 2000) - Among the many things the fans of NASCAR look forward to on the Winston Cup circuit is the racing at Bristol Motor Speedway. High banks, constant action and laps in the 15-second range. Robby Gordon feels the excitement as well, but would like to see a different outcome than he had in his lone trip to Bristol in 1997 where he qualified decently at 20th, but was involved in an incident and forced out of the race early. As is the case with Rockingham, and most recently, Darlington; Bristol is a track where you have to pay your dues before setting the 36-degree banks on fire.
"I think everybody is stunned the first time they come to Bristol," said Gordon, driver of the Team Gordon #13 Menards/Duracell Ford Taurus. "The bleachers are so high and so steep that I seem to remember people throwing chicken bones from the top row that were landing on the track! Seriously, it's an awesome place to race, like being in the bottom of a big noise-generating funnel.
"As for this weekend, we're in much the same boat we were in last week trying to get a feel for a tough track. It's going to be hard to beat the veterans here; guys like Rusty (Wallace), Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon have won here so many times that you can't help but watch what they're doing and hope some of it rubs off. We had a test here last week and I had a chance to take a long look at where Rusty was running and how he handled the banking. He's about as good as they get here, so I don't feel bad learning from his years of experience."
Gordon's goal as he works his way through the early part of the season is to stay out of trouble and take advantage of as much race-day experience as possible. While practice and qualifying are important, there is nothing like seat time in the heat of battle.
"Our first goal of each weekend is to qualify for the race on Friday, no question about it," explained Gordon, "That allows us to work on preparing a race car. Races aren't won in qualifying. It's a necessary step, but we'd like to think we're good enough that once we really start hitting on all cylinders and building up a solid book of setups that we'll come into each race and not have to worry about making the show. What I need is race experience. Lets face it, down the road everyone on this race team wants to win. Ask anyone here, that's what it's all about. Sometimes I'm a victim of wanting that too soon. But that's why we race - to win, period. It's my job, based on whatever tool I have when the flag drops, to find a way to get to the winner's circle.
For Gordon, it's been an interesting maturation process in this early season that has been met with both success and with frustration. Solid finishes at Daytona and Las Vegas have been contrasted with outings at Rockingham and Darlington where he spent most of the weekend coming to grips with quirky, unforgiving tracks. In both latter instances, Gordon was able to turn those races into positives for himself and the team.
"Really, I've been very impressed with the way he's performed this season," said Mike Held, co-owner and business manager for Team Gordon. "You can see how tough it is to come to this series and make it as a start up operation, but not many people recognize how tough it is for the driver. They underestimate a driver's need to adjust. Robby can drive anything, and he's smart enough to be able to adapt to whatever the condition is, whether it be a type of car, track or terrain. But like anything, he needs that seat time to get in there and let his talent find a way - or make one, whichever the case may be. And I guarantee you he will, because he wants it so badly. It's all about harnessing that talent and making sure there's patience when things aren't going so well and a fire-breathing dragon when he's hooked up."
Heading into this weekend, Gordon is hesitant to be considered a fire-breathing dragon, but readily admits he's excited to see where he stands in the place they call, "Thunder Valley."
"I don't know about this dragon-thing, I feel like I'm always trying to breathe fire out there," laughed Gordon. "But you do have to be realistic at times and not think too much of yourself that you won't learn from the guys driving circles around you. Coming into Bristol, I've tested here and I've raced here once before, but I only raced something like 90 laps before getting involved in a typical Bristol wreck. There you go, something I learned in '97 - don't get in one of those wrecks!
"Everything changes in a race, the wily vets pull tricks out of their bags and draw on their knowledge of past racing. I need to get more comfortable with the people racing around me, conditions, tire wear - you name it. I've got a small notebook from '97, but I honestly feel that now I'm a more disciplined and patient driver, so I can absorb more this year and be better for the next rodeos when we return to these places later in the season. When I finish a race like we had in Rockingham, I'm mad. But I enjoy the thought of getting even; if I could suit up the next day and race again with a clean slate, I'd be the first guy strapped in the car ready to go. It's all about keeping a good balance of pushing the envelop, yet also understanding the long term gain to being realistic. Look at last weekend, we finished 28th at Darlington, but man we learned a lot in those 290 laps!"
Practice for Sunday's Food City 500 from Bristol begins Friday at 11am EST, with qualifying slated for 3:15pm.