Jeff Gordon bowls over the competition at Daytona

Jeff Gordon the bowling king at Daytona. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (April 29, 2002) -- Jeff Gordon walked into a local bowling alley last Tuesday carrying his bowling ball nicknamed the "Detonator." It was the same kind of walk that Gordon will...

Jeff Gordon the bowling king at Daytona.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (April 29, 2002) -- Jeff Gordon walked into a local bowling alley last Tuesday carrying his bowling ball nicknamed the "Detonator."

It was the same kind of walk that Gordon will make on pit road towards his race car in advance of the start for the 44th annual Pepsi 400 on July 6 at Daytona International Speedway.

"It's like coming in with my helmet," said Gordon as he greeted the assembled media for an event to promote the Pepsi 400.

Whether it's bowling or going 190 mph on the high banks at the "World Center of Racing," Gordon still can't shake that competitive spirit of being able to claim victory.

"May the best team win," said Gordon before a friendly match against Speedway President John Graham and the media.

Gordon got off to a bad start in the first frame, finding the wall with a gutter ball. But in typical Gordon fashion, he rallied on his second bowl and knocked all the pins down to score a spare. He scored a couple more spares throughout his seven frames of bowling before taking a break to answer some questions.

For Gordon, his bowling score doesn't matter so much because tossing a ball at some pins is just a relaxing way to get his mind off of the duties of being a four-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion and the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Chevrolet.

"It's one of them," Gordon said. "I like scuba diving. I don't know if that's a sport. I like a lot of different things that get me completely away from the (craziness) of my life at times. That can be bowling, can be a movie, can be scuba diving with sharks. It could be a lot of things."

Has Gordon had any close calls with those sharks?

"I have pictures of sharks that are about two feet away," Gordon said. "That's not a close call, that's lucky. I messed with an eel and he did not like that. That's the only experience I've ever had where a fish or something in the water did not like me."

It's important to Gordon to be able to get away from it all sometimes. He has to keep up with a demanding schedule, which includes a 36-race schedule (not including the Budweiser Shootout and The Winston), working with both the No. 24 team that he drives for and the No. 48 team in which he has ownership interest along with keeping up with sponsorship appearances.

Gordon usually takes Monday off to recover from the previous race weekend. His schedule the rest of the week varies from doing appearances and media functions to just spending time at his business offices, which are located right above the race shop that houses his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets in Harrisburg, N.C. He also goes downstairs to the shop to visit with crew chief Robbie Loomis and team manager Brian Whitesell.

Gordon takes his busy schedule in stride and focuses on one race at a time as he shoots for his fifth NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship.

"It goes by so fast it's unbelievable," Gordon said. "I couldn't even tell you how many races we've run. It goes by and you just go to the next one. I try not to count how many there are, how many are left and how many we've done. I know I've got to keep going, not get tired and not get burned out and be fresh and excited for each one."

While he's one of the busiest drivers on the circuit, he still feels lucky and fortunate to be doing a job that he loves.

"I think the best thing is being able to do something with your life that makes you happy and you're good at and that you enjoy doing," Gordon said. "I don't think there's many people that get to go to work everyday in something that they thoroughly love and enjoy to do and get paid the kind of money that I get paid doing it."

Gordon's next race at Daytona will be the Pepsi 400. He won his first summer race at Daytona during the daytime in 1995 and followed that up with a victory in the inaugural nighttime running of the Pepsi 400 in 1998.

In this year's Pepsi 400, Gordon and the rest of the field will try to break Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s stronghold on restrictor-plate races. Dale Earnhardt Jr., the 2001 Pepsi 400 champion, and Michael Waltrip, the 2001 Daytona 500 winner, have finished in the top two in three of the last six restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Most recently, Earnhardt Jr. captured the Aaron's 499 at Talladega with Waltrip a close second.

"Those two worked so well together," Gordon said about the recent Talladega race. "It was almost guaranteed that a DEI car was going to win because of how well they worked together and how strong their cars are."

But Gordon says under the current rules package for restrictor-plate races, DEI can be beat and he hopes he's the one to do it.

"It can be done," Gordon said. "I wasn't in a position to really get a good look there at the end (of April's race at Talladega) to see what it would've taken. I would've liked to. These rules allow a guy that knows how to work the draft an opportunity to win more so than the old rules.

"The old rules, it was mash it to the floor and pass whenever you can and that was every lap. If the checkered flag happened to fall when you happened to be going forward, then you won the race. There was no skill to it at all other than not trying to wreck."

Tickets for the Pepsi 400 are available online at http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling the Speedway ticket office at (386) 253-7223.

-dis-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Michael Waltrip , John Graham , Robbie Loomis