Daytona II: Jeff Gordon preview

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - It is not easy to stay cool at Daytona in July. However, Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, intends to keep cool in several different ways as he enters the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway this ...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - It is not easy to stay cool at Daytona in July. However, Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, intends to keep cool in several different ways as he enters the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway this Saturday night.

On the track, keeping physically cool in a 3400 pound stock car is difficult in the summer heat in Florida as temperatures get well over 100 degrees in the cockpit.

"It does get extremely hot in the car," said Gordon. "However, we have ways of dealing with the heat. We have a system that allows air to flow through our helmets and the crew works to keep me cool on pit stops with water and ice packs."

Off the track this weekend, Gordon will be involved in a few other "cool" things. With DuPont's new "Cool2go Wrap" logo on the TV panel for this weekend's event, Gordon will promote the science company's new insulated beverage wrap -- label technology that allows the beverage to remain colder, longer.

In addition, the No. 24 car will sport a special paint scheme that showcases the cool $1 billion that Pepsi is offering up in a current promotion. The paint scheme can be seen this Wednesday on the Today Show on NBC.

However, as we mark the second half of a season that consists of a 20 consecutive race weekend streak, "keeping his cool" is the key that will allow Gordon to maintain the pace he has kept in gaining points on leader Matt Kenseth for a fifth NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship.

"We're running for a championship," Gordon said. "That's where our focus is and as we get ready to enter this 20 week stretch, we need to maintain that focus and remember patience each week -- in each race -- in order to be a contender at the end."

Gordon has been on a roll as of late, finishing in the top three in three of the last four races. After the road race at Infineon Raceway on July 22, he jumped ahead of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to move into second place in the point standings. He picked up 49 points on leader Matt Kenseth and now only trails him by 174.

A good finish on Saturday night could open the door for Gordon to make another significant gain in points on Kenseth, who has only one top-10 finish in seven races at Daytona and just one top-five in 14 career restrictor plate races.

"Earnhardt, Jr., will be tough because he's always strong at restrictor plate races, but we may be able to pick up some more points on Kenseth," said Gordon.

"Matt's been consistent all season, but this might be another situation that we can take advantage of. Regardless of where he finishes, we still need to have a strong finish Saturday night."

If Gordon hopes to make any gains he'll have to turn around his recent history at Daytona. In his first 13 NASCAR Winston Cup races at Daytona, he scored four wins and eight top-five finishes. However, in the eight races since, he has only two top 10's and three finishes of 30th or worse.

"It's not like we've had bad cars or anything," said Gordon. "We've led laps and been up front in most of those races, but we've not been able to come away with the finishes we were expecting."

Despite recent stats, Gordon still leads all active drivers who have 10 or more starts at Daytona, with a 9.76 average starting and 14.5 average finishing position. In fact, Gordon's six restrictor-plate wins are the most of any active driver.

"We ran well this year at Daytona, but I was just a bit unlucky," said Gordon. "I was leading the Budweiser Shootout with just a few laps to go before Junior got some help and passed me on the outside. And then in the 500, I was running third when I made a move to get the lead but got shuffled back right before the rain and the red flag. I think our restrictor plate program is where it needs to be.

"The teams who are best prepared will make it through this 20-race stretch on top of the standings. There is no doubt in my mind that we are one of those teams."

And how cool would it be for Gordon to achieve a fifth Winston Cup championship?

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth