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Gordon's leanings to right
By BRANT JAMES
Published June 25, 2006
Robby Gordon has raced for large NASCAR teams - briefly - and his own small operation. He's won - sparingly - and been nowhere near competitive. So the 37-year-old has a certain appreciation for taking advantage of an opportunity that comes around infrequently.
That's why Gordon was so entertained by David Gilliland's stunning victory in the Busch series race last weekend at Sparta, Ky., when the unknown Californian and West Series driver took an unsponsored car to Victory Lane, beating nine Nextel Cup moonlighters who had won all 15 races of the season so far.
That's why Gordon's eyes light up two times a Nextel Cup season when either Watkins Glen or Infineon Raceway - site of today's race - is on the docket. Running a small team with a limited budget makes Gordon fight uphill 34 times a year, but when the left-turn-only crowd visits a road course, Gordon feels like he has the advantage. Increasingly, that may be a misperception, but it's his feeling.
"Obviously, I get excited when this time of year comes around," said Gordon, who will start an admittedly disappointing 14th today.
Two of Gordon's three Nextel Cup wins in a 13-year, 214-race career came on road courses and both in 2003. Gordon started second, led 81 of 110 laps but needed a controversial pass of then-Richard Childress Racing teammate Kevin Harvick to win at Sonoma, Calif. He won from the 14th starting spot six weeks later at Watkins Glen. That 2003 season was Gordon's most productive in the series with four top-fives, 10 top-10s and a 16th-place points finish, but he left RCR after the 2004 season to start his own team.
Gordon has also finished second and ninth and has four top-10 qualifying efforts at Sonoma. He started fifth and finished 16th last year in his first effort as a driver/owner. He's 28th in points this season but has made every race, something he could not do last year after failing to qualify at the Daytona 500. Out of the top 35 in owner points, he had to qualify on time every weekend and missed seven events.
"I think we have grown a lot this season as a competitive team and as a company, and it can be seen on the racetrack," he said. "Although we have had some top-10 and top-15 runs this year I feel like this is the first time that we really have a chance at winning multiple races. We feel like we have put the right people in the right positions, whether it be in the front office or in the body shop, we have a cohesive group of employees that produce week in and week out. Especially this week, we are coming to a race that we have a legitimate shot at winning."
More of his peers feel the same way this weekend. While many Nextel Cup drivers still rue road courses, an increasing number has come to understand they are just as important as a short track or superspeedway as points-paying routes to the Chase for the Championship.
"You have that coming in where you have five guys or six guys that go, 'Man, I can't wait for that road course, we're going to go out there and have a shot to win,' " said Jeff Gordon, who has won four times each at Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
Defending series champion Tony Stewart has won three straight road-course races, though admittedly he's not sure where the talent comes from. Turning right is elementary, he said.
"It's not hard," he said, "and if you don't figure it out you're going to crash. We do it all the time in street cars, it's not like we can't figure it out in race cars."