Gordon Due For Texas Success

FORT WORTH, Texas – Jeff Gordon’s career has been nothing but gaudy numbers.

He has won four Winston Cup championships, ranking him second only to Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. He has won 58 Winston Cup races, ranking him eighth all-time, fifth in the modern era and first among active drivers.

He won six straight road-course races, an all-time record. He won five straight superspeedway races in 1998, an all-time record.

He won 13 times in 1998, matching Petty’s modern-era record. He won 12 superspeedway races in 1998, a modern-era record.

He has 40 poles, tying him for 11th all-time, sixth in the modern era and third among active drivers.

And he’s 30 years old, which makes the other numbers seem all the more incredible.

But then check out his numbers at Texas Motor Speedway, the site of today’s rain-delayed Samsung/Radio/Shack 500: 30th, 31st, 43rd, 25th, fifth.

Yuck. And you thought the North Texas weather was ugly.

“We need to finish with all the fenders intact,” Gordon said. “Last year was the first time we were able to do that here, and we finished fifth.”

That was darn near a victory for Gordon, which says something for him here. He’s won at 19 of 23 current Winston Cup tracks – three more than any active driver – failing to win at Chicago, Homestead, Phoenix and, of course, Texas.

Maybe, just maybe, the numbers will work in his favor Monday. It will be his 300th career Winston Cup race – all consecutively, another record.

“Three hundred – I can’t believe it,’ Gordon said. “That seems like a lot to me. It kind of snuck up on me. I don’t look at the starts as much as I look at the finishes. I like those statistics more, but 300 is special.

“I don’t focus on the records. When I retire, that’s when I’ll look back on my career. My goal right now is to win Texas.”

He’ll have his work cut out for him. Gordon qualified a paltry 26th Friday, failing to back up a fast practice lap. With passing expected to be difficult, moving to the front is going to take an exceptional car.

“I know it’s going to be single file and there’s not going to be much passing at all,” Gordon said. “With a new surface like this, we’ll be running along the bottom of the track.

“You just try to keep yourself up in good track position all day long. So, we’ll have to look at the tire wear and look at the type of pit strategy we can play. But track position is going to be so critical that it will be the main focus. Whatever I can do as a driver to protect the bottom is going to be real important. When it’s hard to pass and you’ve got to protect the bottom, if somebody gets greedy and wants to stick his nose in there, then you’ll have problems.”

Like problems Gordon has encountered here in the past, including one wreck that injured his shoulder. But Gordon recovered to race the next week. And another amazing stat about his 300 starts is that he hasn’t used a provisional a single time.

“That’s pretty awesome,” Gordon said. “We’ve come close a couple of times. That says a lot about our race team and how well we’ve qualified.”

And his finishes haven’t been too bad, either. Just look at the numbers.

But don’t look at his numbers here. They’re ugly.

Of course, his numbers so far in 2002 haven’t been too pretty, either. The defending Winston Cup champion is 10th in the points standings after a disastrous race at Bristol Motor Speedway. He won the pole and led 82 laps, but crashed all by himself to finish 31st.

That followed a disappointing race at Darlington, where he led 176 laps but got caught in the pack and finished ninth.

So, sure, a victory at Texas would soothe a lot of pain here, but it would soothe a lot of pain everywhere.

“Oh, it would be awesome,” Gordon said. “But right now I just want to win. I don’t care where it is. We’ve run extremely well, and our finishes have not shown how well we’ve run. And that’s unfortunate. I want to get that turned around and start listing some good finishes up there on the board. We’re capable of it.”

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