By Patrick Jennings - Motorsport.com Watkins Glen, NY - Without a doubt, Jeff Gordon's performance this afternoon in the Global Crossing at the Glen served notice that he is once again the man to beat in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. In doing...
By Patrick Jennings - Motorsport.com
Watkins Glen, NY - Without a doubt, Jeff Gordon's performance this afternoon in the Global Crossing at the Glen served notice that he is once again the man to beat in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. In doing so, Gordon, who started 13th, recorded his fourth Winston Cup Series win at Watkins Glen International and his second win in as many weeks. Although Gordon did not dominate the race by any stretch of the imagination (Jeff Burton led the most laps), he ran consistently all day long, waiting until the last 20 laps of race to make his presence known to the rest of the field. With his win this afternoon, Gordon has won seven of the last eight Winston Cup Series road races. More importantly, however, he padded his Winston Cup Series points lead over Ricky Rudd.
"The car felt great," Gordon said. "There at the beginning I wore the brakes out on it and I was really fighting that. I knew we had a good racecar, and we really had to fight for it. We had a good enough car that I knew that if we could get up there [the front of the field] we'd have a shot at this thing [the race]."
Gordon's stiffest challenge came from Jeff Burton, who used timely pit stops to lead the most laps (30) and pose the only real threat to Gordon's fifth victory of the season. But in the end, Burton was just a spectator as Gordon made a difficult maneuver under braking in the inner loop to cement his hold on the lead for good. "Good pit stop strategy got us good track position and we were very consistent," explained Burton. "We were the second fastest car all day. And we got beat by the fastest car, so that's okay. To have a chance to win the race off the last corner is really all you can ask for. I don't feel like I left anything out there."
While Burton and Gordon ran strong for most of the day, many of the pre-race favorites experienced a number of problems very early in the event. After leading the first 17 laps of the race, pole-sitter Dale Jarrett spun in Turn One on Lap 17 to bring out the first caution of the race. Subsequently, Jarrett lost a lap when he stopped to have the car checked out. On the same lap, two-time race winner Rusty Wallace parked his car with a blown motor. Jarrett's spin handed the lead of the race to the mercurial Robby Gordon (driving for the injured Mike Skinner). In the meantime, Tony Stewart and John Andretti made contact with one another on Lap 21. Although the contact did not bring out the yellow flag, Andretti was black flagged several laps later for loose front-end sheet metal caused by the scrape with Stewart.
As Stewart and Andretti battle it out back in the field, Gordon, who started fourth, led the next 11 laps until outside pole-sitter Ricky Rudd grabbed the lead from Gordon on lap 29. But Rudd's lead was short-lived as Ron Fellows inherited the lead on Lap 31 after Rudd pitted. Three laps later, Jeff Burton took over the top spot.
Road racing hot-shoe Ron Fellows brought out the second caution after his car stopped out on the course on Lap 39. This bunched up the rest of the field and brought all of the front-runner backs into synch as far as pit strategy was concerned. "We think the axle broke," Fellows stated. "That was probably our problem beginning at around lap 10. I can't believe our rotten luck in Winston Cup. This is like the Daytona 500 for us." The decidedly dejected Fellows said that he would trade all of his Busch Series and Truck Series wins at the Glen for one Winston Cup victory.
At the halfway point of the 90-lap race, Burton led Rudd, Jerry Nadeau, Jeff Gordon, and Todd Bodine to the start/finish line. Burton continued to set the pace until he pitted on lap 55. Burton's stop handed the lead to a hard charging Robby Gordon. Gordon, however, relinquished the lead two laps later when a telemetry box fire forced him to park his car for the remainder of the day. "NASCAR owes me one," Gordon said. "We had the car [to beat]. To go out of the race with something that's not driver-related or team-related is a huge disappointment."
After Gordon retired, the lead changed hands several times among Todd Bodine, Scott Pruett, Ricky Craven, Stacy Compton, and Matt Kenseth as the front runners made their green flag pit stops.
As the field finally sorted itself out on Lap 69, Burton assumed the lead of the race for the second time today. One lap later, Jarrett spun out in Turn 1 for the second time in the race. This bunched up the field again with 21 laps to run. On the subsequent re-start, Burton and Jeff Gordon swapped the lead several times over the course of the next several laps. Finally, Gordon aggressively out-braked Burton going into the inner loop on the backstretch to take the lead for good.
"He got by me and I got back by him and he got back by me and I got back by him and he got by me again," explained Burton. "Jeff's just really good, and he's so smooth. He drove in so deep in the inner loop that I didn't think that he would make it. That was the move of the race. That was an awesome move that he used to get by me."
Gordon, however, downplayed his driving prowess. "I had to fight pretty hard to get back underneath him. I knew he didn't have as fresh tires as we did. But he was running pretty good and I knew that I had to get by him early."
On lap 80, the caution flag flew for the fourth time of the day for oil put down on the track by Jimmy Spencer. Although a slight bobble by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. caused several cars to check-up going into Turn 1 on the restart, Gordon drove away from Burton with ease. One lap later, contact between Brian Simo and Kurt Busch brought out the final caution of the event and handed Burton his last shot at catching Gordon. As usual, Gordon rose to the challenge, leading the last five laps of the race. In the end, he beat Burton to the finish line by 0.172 seconds.
Despite the fact that he didn't dominate the race as he has done in the past, Gordon's win of the season does not bode well for the rest of the Winston Cup competitors. "I tell you what; you can't beat the level of confidence right now."
Jeremy Mayfield, Ricky Rudd, and Todd Bodine rounded out the top-five. While Jerry Nadeau, Kevin Harvick, Boris Said, Bobby Labonte, and Steve Park finished sixth through tenth respectively.
With his win today, Gordon stretched his points lead over Ricky Rudd to 194 points. Additionally, Rudd gained a position on teammate Dale Jarrett. Sterling Marlin and Tony Stewart are now fourth and fifth in the championship standings.
The hot topic of conversation this weekend was the announcement that NASCAR will release the highly anticipated results of its investigation into the death of Dale Earnhardt on August 21 in Atlanta. Although NASCAR officials will not comment on the contents of the report, the Orlando Sentinel reports that NASCAR's report will address various issues regarding car safety and chassis stiffness. Moreover, while some in the garage area believe that NASCAR may have tipped off the drivers about the contents of its report, the drivers are reticent to discuss the situation until the official announcement is released to the media. "It's hard to comment on something that we don't know if they have the facts yet," stated 2000 Winston Cup champion Dale Jarrett. "I think we should pretty much wait and see what the facts really are. I've been convinced from the beginning that the seatbelt wasn't what created Dale's death."
"As far the cars being too rigid, we build these race cars and we build them to specifications. We don't put them through crash tests like the automobile manufacturers put passenger cars through crash tests before they're put on the road, so we don't know exactly what happens there. All we have is that when we do have accidents, is to look and take all of that into consideration."
"I think that there are things that we can learn [as far as the cars being too rigid]. How much they can be implemented into our cars, we'll look at that and see what we can do. We have to lessen the blow on the driver's compartment, however that's done. Soft walls are not going to work everywhere . . . . The Humpy Bumper . . . [is] taking some of the forces in the driver's compartment and if we can do that, if we can do that by doing something different in our chassis, everybody is gonna have to look at that and realize that we have to work on that together."
Jarrett also commented on the new composite seat that is currently under development. "In the very near future it could be something that we'll have in our cars and it will be available. I think it's something that certainly could make a real difference in the safety issues. I liked what I saw. It may be a little more like an Indy car tub. You see those guys walk away from some pretty serious accidents, so I think we're looking in the right direction in a lot of different areas and our sport is gonna be much safer in the coming years."
Similarly, Jarrett expressed an interest in finding out why Earnhardt's seat belt broke during his crash. "It's not a manufacturing defect or anything like that. I've always used Simpson race belts and, as far as I know, I always will. I have the utmost respect and confidence in that company. This was something that is just a matter of paying attention to what you have in [the car] and how your belts are mounted and everything. So, yeah, we're very interested in that whenever it happened and NASCAR has helped us as they have all the teams in looking in that direction"
While Jarrett addressed various safety issues, he was quick to point out that he believes that his cars are safe. "The car that I drive is extremely safe and I've felt that way the entire time. I feel very confident in the racecars that Robert Yates puts me out in, and all the specifications that NASCAR puts us through [sic]. I think it's just up to us as drivers and teams to look into in the near future."
In a testament to the rising popularity of NASCAR, Mike Helton was spotted signing autographs outside the garage this morning.