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Motorsports

Pot(hole) luck bugs Gordon

By BRANT JAMES
Published April 20, 2004

Jeff Gordon pleaded his case to NASCAR president Mike Helton, but the discussion was over before it began.

It didn't matter that a chunk of dislodged concrete from Turn 3 of Martinsville Speedway bashed into the right front of Gordon's No.24 Chevrolet on Sunday, wrecking the front end of the dominant car in the Advance Auto Parts 500. Gordon's crew, arguably, deserved the right to work on the car during a 1-hour, 17-minute red flag delay as three potholes - one 4 inches deep - were sealed.

"We're supposed to show up and race," Gordon's car owner, Rick Hendrick, told the Roanoke (Va.) Times. "They're supposed to have the racetrack in the right shape."

But as unfair as Hendrick felt the situation was, NASCAR rules gave Helton no leeway to grant relief. Gordon's case might prompt a rethinking of those guidelines. That did him little good Sunday, though he fought back in the final 209 laps from 22nd place to finish sixth.

"I think they really should have discussed it a little more, as to what should be in place when an obstacle on the track or the track coming apart causes damage like that," Gordon told the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal. "But they made their decision and we had to live with it."

A resurfacing job scheduled to begin next week at Martinsville might get a lot more extensive if inspections find more evidence of failing spots in the concrete turns, the Associated Press reported.

PASS: Paul Tracy was the first driver to use Champ Car's new "push-to-pass" button in a race, and it effectively won him the season-opening Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday.

Tracy hit the button, which boosts engine output by 50 horsepower for up to 60 seconds, to squirt through a tight spot entering Turn 1 of the first green-flag lap. He passed pole-sitter Bruno Junqueira and led the final 81 laps.

TOP THIS: Veteran driver Sterling Marlin had the line of the day on the Fox broadcast at the expense of Chip Ganassi teammate Jamie McMurray. During the red-flag delay, cameras caught McMurray dumping ice down the back Marlin's fire suit.

McMurray quipped Marlin had cooled off by removing his suit and that people like him "can't be walking around here topless."

Without hesitation, Marlin shot back: "I wasn't the one in Panama City last week," a reference to a weekly tabloid article that detailed the alleged exploits of several drivers, including McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Elliott Sadler, a legion of seminude women and a condominium in the Florida beach town.

McMurray winced/grinned and disappeared from the frame.

DOUBLE STUFF: It was a win-win weekend for Paul Gentilozzi in Long Beach. A three-time Trans-Am series champion, Gentilozzi started fourth but led every lap to beat Greg Pickett by .233 seconds for his record fifth victory at the venue.

As co-owner of Champ Car, the reincarnation of now-defunct Championship Auto Racing Teams, he watched 70,000 attend the opener and provide a solid pushoff on a season that was in doubt as recently as a month ago. Champ Car delivered a full 18-car field as promised and the racing was entertaining.

When asked which event was the highlight, Gentilozzi said, "Hands down, I'm happy with the amount of fans we had here."

VENUES: According to USA Today, NASCAR officials have singled out New York, Mexico City, Seattle and Toronto as preferred new venues if the Nextel Cup series expands to 40 races.

None of those markets has a suitable track, though Snohomish County north of Seattle has made a formal proposal to International Speedway Corp. Various racing promoters have discussed building in New York, though cost - perhaps as much as $400-million - and land availability are troublesome issues.

Four counties in the Seattle/Portland, Ore., area are vying for a track there, likely to be built by ISC, which owns a dozen tracks including the superspeedway at Daytona.

[Last modified April 20, 2004, 01:20:37]


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