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Yarborough won't give Gordon his due

BRUCE LOWITT
Published August 31, 2003

DARLINGTON, S.C. - Cale Yarborough won five Southern 500s from 1968 to 1982. Today defending champion Jeff Gordon goes for a record sixth.

Not so fast, sonny, Yarborough says.

"Jeff Gordon has tied my record with five but that doesn't count, 'cause Jeff never won one on the old Darlington racetrack and I did," Yarborough said. "I won the last one on the old track."

What now is a cement wall used to be a guard rail in the old Turn 3 (now Turn 1; the start-finish line was moved in 1997 to the opposite straightaway). The turn was so narrow cars rode the rail, so to speak, the right rear panel grazing it all the way through. The gash on the side of the car became known as the Darlington Stripe.

"You wrecked every lap," Yarborough said. "When you went in there ... you bumped it every lap. All the way around - Bam! Bam! Bam!"

Gordon took the, umm, high road upon hearing Yarborough's remarks.

"I've seen a lot of great video of the older track and those guys were pretty amazing - throwing the car sideways with smoke rolling off the right rear tire," he said. "It was even narrower then than it is now. Of course the cars are a lot different too, today. I look back at what Cale has done and no matter how many Southern 500s I win I don't think I could ever compare myself to him. He's pretty awesome."

IT'S WHAT HE'S RUNNING: Ricky Craven said the controversy over Kurt Busch's driving style isn't because of the way Busch races; it's the way he runs his mouth.

Side by side and bumping each other through the final lap, Craven beat Busch by 0.002 of a second in Darlington's 400-mile March race. There was no post-race rancor. Of late, though, Busch has taken heat for his driving, sometimes bumping and spinning out other cars.

"The difference between a controversy like the last few weeks and a great finish is that we did everything but take each other out," Craven said. "I don't think his driving style has created any - and if it has, a small percentage - of the problem. ... He's a very good driver.

"His remarks have been less settling and a little uncomfortable for some of us that are older (Craven is 37) and don't understand it. He's 25. At 35 he's going to look back and say, "Wow, did I really say that?"'

SURPRISE!: Drivers returning to Darlington for the first time since the March race were greeted with what the track called routine maintenance and Gordon called "horrible": asphalt patches applied in June to parts of Turns 2 and 4.

"They needed to put them in the whole corner or not at all," he said. "Now it grabs and grips. ... It's like you are racing on ice, and then suddenly you're gripping in just a few spots."

PIT STOPS: Hermie Sadler starts 43rd, last in the grid. One driver has won from that far back: Johnny Mantz in the 1950 inaugural Southern 500. ... If Gordon wins today it will be his seventh at Darlington (he swept the TranSouth 400 and Southern 500 in '96), but he'll still be three shy of David Pearson's track record of 10 wins from 1968 to '80. ... Ricky Rudd starts his 54th race at this track. He's won one, the 1991 TranSouth 500.

TO THE POINT: "I'll probably just do what the hell I feel like doing. Is that plain enough?"

- Driver Bill Elliott, 47, when asked what he'll do after he retires.

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