Gordon Getting It In Gear

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – What’s wrong with Jeff Gordon?

Well, let’s think about that for a moment. Only five drivers have more points than Gordon. Only three have more top-five finishes. Only two drivers have led more laps.

So, in a sense, nothing is wrong with Jeff Gordon.

Of course, Gordon isn’t used to being sixth in the Winston Cup points standings. He’s used to being first, where he ended up last year and where he’s ended up four times during his career. So a sixth-place standing to Gordon is a lot like a 16th for many drivers.

And, so far in 2002, Gordon hasn’t finished first – unless you want to count the Gatorade Twin 125-Mile qualifying race at Daytona in February.

But in Winston Cup points races this year, Gordon has come up empty. He hadn’t even finished in the Top 5 until coming home second to Matt Kenseth at Texas Motor Speedway on Monday.

And now he heads to one of his favorite tracks, the .526-mile Martinsville Speedway, where he’s won three times. Now could be the time his season gets back to normal.

“I certainly hope so,” Gordon said. “Unfortunately our finishes haven’t been any indication as to how we’ve run. We’ve run pretty well here in the last four or five races – really, everywhere except for Las Vegas – we’ve run well and had a shot at winning races. But that doesn’t matter if you don’t bring it home in those positions.

“We’ve had our problems this year, but a second-place last weekend in Texas – a place that hasn’t been very good for us – is a big momentum booster for us in helping turn our season. But we’re sixth in points. We haven’t had the finishes that we want, but I can’t say that it’s been an awful start for us either because we are still in the Top 10 in points. We’re certainly not out of this thing. If we can get some momentum, I think we can win some races.”

Martinsville would be a good place to get a victory, for Gordon’s record here is impeccable. In his 18 races on Martinsville’s flat half-mile, Gordon has finished 12th or better 17 times – and he doesn’t have a DNF. His average finish of 7.0 is highest among active drivers.

“I’m excited about it – especially after our run last week in Texas,” Gordon said. “We needed a little bit of a momentum booster, and that has helped us going into Martinsville, which is one of my favorite tracks.

“We’ve been taking a little bit different car there the last couple of races and it’s qualified well, but it hasn’t raced as well as we would have like it to. So we’re going back to a combination – or more back to the old style we’ve won with. As long as we can get it qualified up front, I think we’ve got a real good shot of winning that race.”

Qualifying for the Virginia 500 is set for Friday at 3:05 p.m. (ET), and it’s one of the most important sessions of the season, Gordon said. That could bode well for him, since he won the pole for this race last year and started third in the second event in 2001.

“This may be the most important pole position of any of the tracks we visit simply because of pit stall choice,” Gordon said. “Getting a stall where you can just drive straight out is a huge bonus. It’s not hard to tear up a good racecar here just by driving down pit road.

“You have to be very patient here because you’re going to be working through heavy traffic all day. Being impatient will eventually put you behind the wall, and it’s pretty hard to pick up points and move up in the standings from there.”

But Gordon is confident, as confident as he’s been all season. Since Martinsville is so small, there won’t be much talk about aerodynamics. Instead, getting around Martinsville is all about the chassis and brakes.

“We’ve run real well (in 2002), we just haven’t put the finishes up there,” Gordon said. “I like going to the short tracks where the aero stuff is not near as much a factor. It does bring the team and driver and communication – which I think is one of our strongest suits – back into it.”

And maybe it will bring him back to victory lane.

Dale Jarrett is the defending champion of the Virginia 500.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002

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