Jeff Gordon Rockingham II preview

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. - Jeff Gordon knows that championships are not won solely based on race day performances. It all starts off with how a driver performs during qualifying on Fridays and is something that Gordon has excelled at in 2001. ...

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. - Jeff Gordon knows that championships are not won solely based on race day performances. It all starts off with how a driver performs during qualifying on Fridays and is something that Gordon has excelled at in 2001. Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, has started in the top five in 14 of 32 races this season. His six poles and average starting position of 9.3 is tops in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. "Qualifying is so important because of track position and especially pit stall selection," said Gordon. "It makes everything easier for the pit crew if you can get a stall that has an opening in front of or behind it." If history is any indication, Gordon should qualify up front for the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 at North Carolina Speedway. He has not qualified outside of the top 10 at Rockingham since the fall of 1994. Since then, he has two poles and an average starting position of 3.8. In 17 career races at Rockingham, he has four wins, all of which occurred in his three championship seasons (1995, 1997, 1998), and seven top-five finishes. In 1998, Gordon won the fall event from the ninth starting position to clinch his third championship with one race remaining. "I wish we could qualify everywhere like we do at Rockingham," said Gordon. "One of the keys at Rockingham is to get the car turning well in the corners. It has a tendency to be cold when we go there, so it's important to get some heat built up in the tires on the first lap. When we won the pole in February, we gave up our first lap and took the momentum into the second lap and it paid off." It also helps that the No. 24 team is bringing one of their most successful cars into this weekend's event. In four races in 2001, it has not finished outside the top five and has two wins, Las Vegas and Dover in June. "This is just one of several cars that we can roll off the truck and feel confident that it will run well right off the bat," said Gordon. Although he cannot clinch this weekend, he only needs to finish 24th or better in the four remaining races to win his fourth Winston Cup championship. His lead in the point standings over Ricky Rudd was trimmed by 15 to 380 after the race last weekend in Phoenix. It marked only the third time Gordon has lost points since gaining the lead in race 20 at Pocono in July. "We're going into this weekend with the same attitude that we've taken into the 32 before it," said Gordon. "It's worked well for us so far." Good point. Out of those 32 races, Gordon leads the Winston Cup Series in wins (6), poles (6), top-fives (18), top-10's (23), races led (23), laps led (2,032), average finish (10.0) and average start (9.3). Also, he has flourished at a time when some teams have faded. In the last 14 races, starting with New Hampshire in July, he has three wins and has finished outside of the top 10 only twice. "Consistency is the name of the game if you want to win a championship," said Gordon. "We're at the point now where we don't want to beat ourselves. Instead of worrying about a race track or the competition, it's how do we make sure that we don't cause our own problems?" Qualifying up front will help the No. 24 team minimize their problems and take them one step closer to their fourth Winston Cup championship.

-PPPR-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon