Gordon Takes The Point

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SONOMA, Calif. – The biggest question this weekend at Sears Point Raceway isn’t who will win the NASCAR Winston Cup Dodge Save Mart 350.

No, the question on most everybody’s mind is can anybody knock Jeff Gordon from his perch atop the throne at the 1.949-mile, 10-turn road course?

“The King of the Road” has won three-straight Winston Cup events at Sears Point and is undoubtedly the favorite heading into Sunday’s race.

And, as expected, Gordon will start the Save Mart 350 from the No. 1 position after winning the pole Friday with a Winston Cup track record of 93.699 mph. The pole was Gordon’s fourth of the season, his third at Sears Point and the 37th of his Winston Cup career.

The last driver besides Gordon to win a Winston Cup race at Sears Point was Mark Martin, in 1997. Martin has 10 top-10 finishes at Sears Point and has won four road-course events during his career, including three at Watkins Glen.

Rusty Wallace qualified second at 93.417 mph, followed by Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Ward Burton, Jerry Nadeau, Robby Gordon, Terry Labonte, Ricky Craven and Bobby Hamilton.

Because of his past prowess at Sears Point, Gordon said he’s sure he’ll be a target for other drivers this weekend.

“I’m sure everybody’s probably looking at us as being a threat,” Gordon said. “But if we don’t go out there and perform and do what we’re supposed to do, which is continue to improve, then we won’t win. I don’t feel the pressure that we have to win, I just feel this is an opportunity for us to come in here and have a shot at winning.”

Gordon is racing the same car he won with here the past three years, with a few modifications.

“If we’d have let this car sit in the shop without touching it and rested on our laurels, we’d probably be in trouble,” Gordon said. “Even though it’s a great car, you just can’t do that in this day and age.

“We’ve made some improvements to the car, including the transmission, the brakes and even the chassis. With what we’ve done, we hope we can see the same results. We haven’t always won the pole, but winning the pole is great and something we take a lot of pride in.”

Wallace, a two-time pole and race winner here, held the previous Winston Cup qualifying record at Sears Point of 93.309 mph, set in June of 2000. Gordon won the pole at Sears Point in both 1998 and 1999.

Wallace was the fourth driver to qualify Friday, while Gordon was the 21st qualifier.

“That didn’t help,” Wallace said of the qualifying draw. “When we saw No. 4, I went, ‘Oh man.’ Every time you come out here and get an early number it’s hard because the asphalt gets hot and oily. You need five or six – 10 to 15 cars, maybe - to run on it and compact that junk back down in there.”

Several “road-course specialists” are entered in this Sunday’s Save Mart 350, which is set to begin shortly after 3:30 p.m. (ET). Drivers such as Ron Fellows, Brian Simo, Boris Said, Dorsey Schroeder and Robby Gordon are among those with a great deal of road-racing experience who will shoot to keep Jeff Gordon from extending his winning streak at Sears Point.

Jeff Gordon has won two of the past three Winston Cup races and is coming off a second-place finish in last week’s Pocono 500, won by Ricky Rudd. He leads Dale Jarrett by 36 points in the Winston Cup standings.

“It seems like the biggest threat we’ve got right now is ourselves, and we just have to make sure we stay consistent,” Gordon said. “We need to continue to have cars capable of winning and running in the Top 5. That’s what we’re focused on right now.

“We’ll get a better idea of who is a threat as the year goes on. Obviously, Ricky Rudd has been running really strong lately. And I know Dale Jarrett is going to be there at the end of the season because he’s a good driver and he has a really good team. There are others, but who knows who will rise to the occasion and be there at the end of the season?”

Stewart has been on a roll as of late, also. The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac has finished in the Top 10 in seven of his past eight races and has made his way to fifth place in the Winston Cup standings, 239 points behind Gordon. He wasn’t, however, pleased with his qualifying effort.

“That was a pretty bad lap,” said Stewart, who worked the course in a speed of 93.039 mph. That car felt good. I don’t know where I lost the time, but I lost time somewhere. We’ve got a rev limiter in the car and I was hitting it earlier than I had at the beginning of my practice runs. So, that told me I was getting through the beginning part of the course well. But overall it wasn’t exactly what we’ve wanted. I’m really surprised we’ll be starting third.”

Rudd, who has won four poles at Sears Point (the all-time leader in that category), qualified 22nd.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin, Jimmy Spencer, Jeremy Mayfield, Kurt Busch, Said and Ron Hornaday all took provisionals for Sunday’s race. Martin, who has finished outside the Top 10 only twice in 12 races at Sears Point, wobbled off the course during qualifying and turned in a lap of 88.223 mph. Said, substituting for Robert Pressley in the No. 77 Jasper Engines Ford, also had problems staying on the course.

Andy Houston, Kenny Wallace, Anthony Lazzaro and Jason Leffler all failed to qualify. Houston has failed to qualify for three consecutive races, as has Wallace.

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