Nadeau Battles The Jinx

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CONCORD, N.C. -- Jerry Nadeau has not traveled the path normally taken by the drivers in the Winston Cup garage area. Nonetheless, the 30-year Connecticut native is standing in there with the best this season and making a name for himself in his third full season in NASCAR’s premier series.

Many believe, and his on-track performance in several races this season hasn’t done a lot to prove otherwise, that Nadeau is teetering on super-stardom. Before that comes, though, he must do one thing -- win -- and he will then truly gain confidence in himself and the respect of the Earnhardts, Wallaces, Burtons, Labontes and others.

A victory can go a long way to help a career, and Nadeau has been impressive in his first full season with Hendrick Motorsports. After an abysmal opening to the 2000 season, one in which he didn’t land a top-10 finish until the 16th race of the season at Sonoma, Nadeau has come into form as he becomes more accustomed to his Hendrick association and working with crew chief Tony Furr.

Nadeau will try to break the threshold to the winner’s circle today when he and 42 fellow drivers take the green flag just after 1 p.m. (EST) for the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Nadeau starts third, and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon leads the field to the green after capturing the pole on Wednesday night with a lap around the 1.5-mile trioval at 185.561 mph.

"The car is really good," Nadeau says. "It seems like the second time we go back to a track we’re a lot better. I’m pretty happy about where we’re at, and I feel like we’ve got a great shot at winning."

So too does Furr, a native of Concord, whose only win as a Winston Cup crew chief came with John Andretti in 1997 at Daytona.

"We feel like we are where we need to be," explains Furr. "I know we’ve got a good chance on Sunday. We’ve got a good qualifying effort and the pit crew is doing well. The past few weeks, that has shown up. Everybody had to work together and get on the same page. Any win would be special. Charlotte would probably be more special to me because I was born and raised right here."

Nadeau, for many years, looked as if his career would be decided on either the CART or IRL tours. But one day, he packed his bags and moved to the Charlotte area to try the Winston Cup Series, not even stopping along the way to gain stock-car experience in the Busch Series.

It looks like it might all be getting ready to pay off in a big way, if only Nadeau and Furr can just get a little racing luck to go their way.

"We’ve been good at a lot of tracks," Nadeau said. "We were leading in the 600 (at LMS) in May and blew up. Dover is not my track, but we had the best car there if we hadn’t blown a tire."

Can it be the jinx of the No. 25 car, and a team that hasn’t been to victory lane in Winston Cup competition since Ken Schrader won twice in 1993?

"I’ve heard a lot about the 25 jinx, but I don’t think that much about it," Nadeau answers. "This car has always seemed to run well at certain places. Wally Dallenbach didn’t do a bad job in this car. (Former 25 car drivers) Tim Richmond was my hero and Benny Parsons, Schrader, they all did a good job in this car.

"If they say there’s a jinx, obviously we ran over it a few times. We’ve had a tough second half, wiped out cars in accidents that weren’t our fault.

"Overall, we’ve had a good run at a lot of places and our qualifying has been awesome. We’re averaging 15.5 or something like that, and that’s amazing considering we’re 23rd in points. The points standings don’t show how good this team really is. We’ve lost a lot of points this year to a lot of strange things."

For what it’s worth, Nadeau looks like he will have a car capable of winning today. He posted the fastest speed in Saturday-morning’s practice session, and was near the top of the charts in the afternoon final "Happy Hour."

But it was a less-than-thrilling final practice for Darrell Waltrip and Steve Park who made contact with the wall and damaged their mounts. Waltrip, making his final Winston Cup start at Charlotte, will be forced to go to a back-up car while officials with Park team said they would make repairs to their primary car.

Nadeau knows it’s just a matter of sealing the deal.

"The car is good," he says. "I don’t want to predict anything -- I’m not a predictor. Whatever happens will happen. I feel like we have a car that can win the race. If all the screws and nuts fall in the right place, I’ve got a good shot to win. Jeff Gordon is on his own Sunday, I’ve helped him out enough."

While Nadeau has been focused on the task at hand, Furr and the other Winston Cup crew chiefs have been scrambling to make up for a bizarre lack of Goodyear tires.

"I don’t think we should be concerned about the tire, be we weren’t concerned at Dover either," Nadeau says, making reference to the fall race at Dover Downs when he blew out a right-front tire while leading. "We’ve got seven sets of tires, and we’re going 500 miles. Hopefully we won’t have a lot of yellow flags and we’ll get a lot of long green flag runs so we can get everything out of the tires."

And if Nadeau can get everything out of the car, who knows, we just might have a first-time winner who is on his way to super-stardom.

TV Blackout Lifted: Lowe's Motor Speedway officials have lifted the local blackout of WTBS' telecast of today's UAW-GM Quality 500 NASCAR Winston Cup event.

"Despite the fact that we are far from being sold out, the blackout was lifted at 11 a.m.," said H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president and general manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway. "We realize there is a segment of race fans who are physically or financially unable to be here with us and we wanted them to be able to enjoy all of today's action."

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