Top teams taking aim at Gordon By Shawn A. Akers HARRISBURG, N.C. (Jan. 15, 1999) If Jeff Gordon's competitors are waiting for the No. 24 DuPont Refinishes Chevrolet team to take a fall in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, they may be waiting a...
Top teams taking aim at Gordon By Shawn A. Akers
HARRISBURG, N.C. (Jan. 15, 1999) If Jeff Gordon's competitors are waiting for the No. 24 DuPont Refinishes Chevrolet team to take a fall in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, they may be waiting a long, long time.
But then a good majority of them know better than that. Instead of anticipating Gordon and his team coming back down to earth, they know they're going to have to step their own programs up a notch or two.
"There's no doubt about it, Robin (Pemberton, crew chief) and Paul (Andrews, crew chief) have a very tough job," said Rusty Wallace, who finished a distant fourth to Gordon in the standings a year ago. "But then so does (Gordon's crew chief) Ray Evernham, because the only direction they've got to go is down.
"On the other hand, all of the other teams have nowhere to go but up. It's hard to imagine that they can get any better, but we know we can and that's what we're trying to accomplish. We're building better cars, practicing pit stops every day and seeking the knowledge that will help take us as high as we can get."
Gordon and his Rainbow Warriors won a modern era record-tying 13 races in 1998 on their way to a third series championship in the last four years. Throughout the second half of the season, the team was virtually unbeatable, and pulled away easily from Mark Martin in the standings late in the season.
Gordon said he doesn't mind being the team to beat again this year, but he doesn't anticipate he and his team duplicating last year's numbers.
"It's going to be tough to keep up with the number of wins and the season we had last year," Gordon said Friday during the final day of the annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by UAW-GM Motorsports. "It's awfully tough to put up those statistics one time let alone twice in a row.
"I'd rather deal with being the team to beat than being the team that doesn't do anything. It's what we strive on, pressure. There's a lot of motivation to do what we do. So being recognized as the team to beat, that's what you want to hear. You want to be the best and have these guys talking about you like that."
"You've got to work even that much harder when you're on top," Evernham said. "But you have to stop and say we've got to get better, too, no matter how well we did. We certainly can't rest on our laurels, or the other teams are going to pass us by."
The Penske-Kranefuss Racing teams have come into a new engine program by buying out Larry Wallace, one of the best in the business. Roger Penske, owner of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus driven by Wallace, owns half of the deal. Michael Kranefuss, the owner of the No. 12 Mobil 1 Taurus driven by Jeremy Mayfield, also owns half of the operation. Wallace continues to work for both.
After a few years of toiling in the top-10 in points, Bobby Labonte said it's time for the No. 18 Interstate Batteries team to make a run at the title.
"We feel that we've made a lot of progress over the last few years, and we think that we're ready to crack that top-three," said Labonte, driver of Joe Gibbs' Pontiac. "We're just going to keep improving to get us to the next level." For the last two years, that "top-three" has been pretty exclusive company, with Gordon, Dale Jarrett and Martin claiming the spots.
"We think this is our best year to win a championship," Gibbs said. "We've got the driver, the crew chief, all of the elements necessary to do that. In Winston Cup, if you want to win championships, you need two cars. That's our thoughts. Now, we've got that, and it's going to be a tremendous boost for us."
Former Indy Racing League champion Tony Stewart has moved up to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and will be Labonte's teammate beginning in 1999.
Source: NASCAR Online