Posted: Friday, April 11th 2008 at 10:14pm
Gordon ready to rebound
By The Associated Press
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- A year ago, Jeff Gordon crossed Phoenix International Raceway off the ever-dwindling list of tracks where the four-time champion has yet to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
His victory in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 also was significant because it was his 76th, matching the career mark of the late Dale Earnhardt. And it also was the first of six victories by Gordon in one of best seasons of his career, even if Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson did beat him out for the title.
"Last year was an awesome year for us, all the way around," Gordon said after qualifying 11th for Saturday night's race on the mile Phoenix oval. "And it was definitely one of the highlights of last season and definitely a highlight of my career. To go as long as we've gone without winning a race here, and I guess the irony of the fact that we tied Dale Earnhardt, to me, that's what made it so special."
Now, the only current Cup tracks where Gordon hasn't won are Homestead and Texas.
Each time he gets that first victory at a track, Gordon is elated that he won't have to answer questions about why he hasn't won there yet.
"It's just such a relief, you know," said Gordon, who finished 10th in the fall race at the track. "It's like going to Texas. We have to go to Texas every single time with the "haven't won here, haven't won here.' That's frustrating.
"Of course, we kind of created that. If we hadn't won at so many tracks then they wouldn't be asking me those questions, so it's a good problem to have."
Now Gordon would like to take advantage of his newfound winning ways at Phoenix to bounce back from a terrible race last week on that bugaboo Texas track, where he crashed and finished last in the 43-car field.
It is only the second time in 516 Cup starts that Gordon has finished last. The other time was in April 1999 - at Texas.
But there is another thing to be concerned about right now: Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet has not been running at the end of three of seven races this year, the most DNF's (did not finish) by any driver in 2008.
"If we were going back to Texas, we'd be really nervous, but also be anxious to try some different and new things," Gordon said. "The fact that we're going to a totally different racetrack allows you to put that out of your mind.
"It's not that our team's in trouble, it's not that our race cars haven't been good. It's a pretty isolated situation to Texas. We've been great at all the mile-and-a halfs up to that point. It's something we're focused on to try to do our best to overcome it, but you've got to leave it behind you. You've got to move forward."
And, even with the suspension failure at Daytona and crashes at Las Vegas and Texas, Gordon goes into the Phoenix race just two positions and 91 points out of the top 12.
"Other than the DNF's, I'm very happy with the season," he said. "We've performed well, our pit stops, communication, teamwork, all that's been great. We've run really well at a lot of tracks.
"Things obviously haven't been going our way, and you've got to have that aspect of it as well. And, sometimes, that makes you scratch your head, you know: Why? Why do you have a year like last year (in) which the consistency was just boom, boom, boom. We were strong and running up front and then we win here."
Still, Edwards appears to be the man to beat right now and, after the Ford driver held off Johnson for the win last week, Gordon can envision some new rivalries at the front of the NASCAR pack.
"If they run like they did last week, yes, absolutely," Gordon said. "I mean rivalries come through competition, and when you are the guy to beat, like Carl is right now and Jimmie has been in the past couple years, then it is going to build rivalries.
"Again, those only come if you are consistently battling with those guys. If that builds and continues like it did last week, then it could turn in to a nice rivalry, which wouldn't be a bad thing for the sport."
Ryan Newman will start from the pole Saturday, with Elliott Sadler on the outside of the front row and Edwards and Mark Martin right behind. Two-time reigning Cup champion Johnson will start seventh.
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