BUSCH: Jeff Gordon Reaps Benefits of 'Experiment'

Gordon reaps benefits of 'experiment' By Dave Rodman LAS VEGAS (March 8, 1999) After just one event in his "great experiment" in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division, Jeff Gordon has deemed it an unqualified success. Gordon...

Gordon reaps benefits of 'experiment' By Dave Rodman

LAS VEGAS (March 8, 1999) After just one event in his "great experiment" in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division, Jeff Gordon has deemed it an unqualified success. Gordon scored a pair of top-5 finishes last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a facility that he labeled one of the weakest links in his championship armor. Over the winter, Gordon announced he would run a Pepsi-sponsored Chevrolet in a limited number of NASCAR Busch Series races at tracks he felt were "projects" -- or at which he'd not run well even while winning his third NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship in 1998. Las Vegas was the first, given that Gordon had finished an disappointing -- for him -- 17th-place, one lap down to winner Mark Martin, in 1998's Las Vegas 400. It was his first start in the NASCAR Busch Series since the end of the 1992 season, when he embarked on his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career. Gordon was raving about the benefits of the program Sunday, after he qualified second and finished fourth in the Sam's Town 300 on Saturday, then bounced back to finish a competitive third in the third NASCAR Winston Cup Series race of the season. "I learned we were horrible here last year and we'd better not do anything like we did here last year," Gordon said. "We qualified well last year (fifth), and we just went backwards in the race. I think that's sort of why it was important for us to run the Busch car here, just to get more laps and hope I could learn a little bit in the Busch race. "So far, I think it's helping me get ready for the Winston Cup race. Getting those extra laps and testing like we did last week helped. We're still fighting a few little things but we're much better." It was almost refreshing to hear Gordon claim "inexperience" had hurt his Saturday effort, claiming chasing the car's setup had held him back until it was too late to rally. But one true mark of a champion is the ability to admit soft points. "I think we have strengths where we have guys who are very talented and have built great (NASCAR Busch Series) race cars," he said. "Our weakness is we just don't have the experience with the 9-to-1 engines, with this type of race car. "You come here and get very little practice. You go out and qualify and you've got to do it one time. I think Mark Martin and some of the other Winston Cup guys and even some of the Busch regulars like Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. and Matt Kenseth, they have more experience in what direction the car is going to go. We hope our experience with what I've done in Winston Cup and (DuPont team crew chief) Ray's (Evernham) experience in Winston Cup, hopefully that will weigh out even." "I qualified better than I thought I would in the Busch car," Gordon said. "I really wasn't expecting that straight out of the box. I knew how well this team has come together, how great of a job (crew chief) Patrick Donahue and (team manager) Michael Landis did by getting these cars and this team where it is today. I still had no idea everything was going to come together the way it has." Some observers felt that maybe the biggest hurdle Gordon would face would be resentment from the NASCAR Busch regulars that he would compete with in his "fact-finding expeditions." Defending series champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. dispelled a lot of that following the Sam's Town 300. Earnhardt finished second in the 300-miler a year ago but ended up sixth on Saturday, two spots behind Gordon and right behind 1998 race winner Jimmy Spencer. "I guess all the fans want to know how I feel about the first time me and Jeff have run in the Busch Series together, and I really enjoyed it," Earnhardt said. "To run second to that guy is not a bad day. We had him beat a couple of times, but we got to run side-by-side. He's the best. Everyone wants to be where he's at right now. I have a lot of admiration for him. He's good at what he does, and that's where we all want to be." Gordon's next stop in the NASCAR Busch Series will be at Texas Motor Speedway, where he failed to finish, ending up 31st, in last year's PRIMESTAR 500 NASCAR Winston Cup Series event. He'll warm up in the March 26 Coca-Cola 300 at TMS. "You just have to put yourself in a little bit different mindset because these cars are so much tighter -- at least it was that way today for me," Gordon said. "And I just think that the lack of horsepower -- well, I've got to make sure we have the car freed up because with less horsepower, you don't carry as much momentum. And if you get off the pace, you fall way back. So to come here and finish in the top-5, I'm pretty happy. We've learned a lot and we'll go to Texas. "I want to have a good showing for my car owners, Brooke and Ray," he said of his wife and Evernham. "They put the pressure on me a little bit."

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup , NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Jimmy Spencer , Mark Martin