Gordon: Road-Course King?

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Gordon is the king of the road courses. Or is it the other Gordon?

One Gordon has seven road-course victories in his career, the most of any NASCAR driver who has sat behind the wheel. That would be Jeff.

The other hasn’t won on a road course. Not yet, anyway. But it’s a good bet that Robby Gordon will win a Winston Cup race on a road course before his career is over. And it could happen this weekend in the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Sears Point Raceway.

Gordon, Robby that is, had the race there last year all but sewn up when he decided to battle hard with the lapped car of Kevin Harvick. Gordon and Harvick bumped, and Tony Stewart squirted past to take the lead and the victory.

Then, at Watkins Glen, Gordon was running away with the race when a battery pack that powers the in-car camera malfunctioned and caught on fire. Gordon had to pit, and his chance at victory was gone.

Two races, two victories. At least they should have been. The Sears Point race was the one that stuck in Gordon’s craw, but he used it as a learning experience.

“Last year was a bit of a learning curve for me,” Gordon said. “I went there in Jim Smith’s NationsRent car at the last minute. Running as fast as we did and being as competitive as we were, changed a lot of people’s views.

“I look at Sears Point a year ago as a turning point for us. We had a really good race car. We probably could have done a couple of things differently and won the race. But even after the way it ended up, I didn’t lose my cool and still finished second. I’m proud of that finish.”

He’s not so proud of the way he finished second though. But he’s trying not to think about it.

“I’m not going to dwell on it too much,” Gordon said. “It’s over and gone and done. We knew we had a car capable of winning that race. Things just happen. I learned something at that race. I’ve got to be a little bit smarter of a guy at the wheel and not let stuff like that bother me. A couple of months later, when I was driving the Lowe’s car for RCR, if we hadn’t have lost that TV box, we would have won that race. Very easily, we could have won three races last year but ended up only winning one.”

Interestingly, Harvick is now his Richard Childress Racing teammate. But again, no big deal. It’s as if Gordon is trying to be more laid-back, trying to be more, well, NASCAR.

“We obviously have to work together if we’re going to build this team and be competitive with all three cars,” Gordon said. “I have no grudge against him. So I don’t see a problem there.”

One problem Gordon certainly won’t have is driving on the road course. He’s driven road courses for many years before moving to NASCAR, competing in IMSA GTO, SCCA Trans-Am and CART.

“I don’t consider myself a road-course specialist anymore,” Gordon said. “Five years ago, I would have.”

Now, he’s a Winston Cup driver. But he’s clearly as good as there is on a road course. And he knows it, too. Most drivers consider passing to be all but impossible on the twisting turns of Sears Point, but not Gordon.

“I’ve got to be honest with you: I think I can pass in every corner there,” Gordon said. “So I don’t believe there’s (only) one place to pass. I know of four places I can pass cars. … There’s plenty of places to pass there if you know how to pass on a road course.”

His favorite passing zone is Turn 11, the flat hairpin turn before the start-finish line.

“That’s that hard-breaking turn down into the hairpin,” Gordon said. “That’s probably the easiest place to pass with the least risk. And I look at risk as you’ve got to be around at the end of this deal. Fenders are real important.

“I’ve got a niche for that final turn at Sears Point. Last year, every lap I could beat it by three-tenths in the final turn. I’m not going to tell you how I do it, but I’ve got a niche for that final turn.”

And he’s got a niche for setting up a car for a road course.

“When I had my own race team and knew there were places we’d be real strong, we focused on those race tracks,” Gordon said. “The road courses, we thought, would be our specialty, so we worked real hard on our road course package based on past experience. I’ve got a pretty good baseline setup. I’ve got exactly the setup that I put on the No. 7 car last year that was off my 2000 car at Sears Point (when he finished ninth). We just bolted it right on. I don’t think we changed anything.

“We put that setup again on the car for Watkins Glen, and we gained and fine-tuned on that package. We found some better shock absorbers. We found a couple things that worked better on a Monte Carlo than on a Ford. And then last week, I went with (crew chief) Kevin Hamlin down to (Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, S.C.), and we worked on some forward bite on Turn 11 at Sears Point so we can get some traction coming off that. And we worked on a couple other areas. We’re now working as a team to improve on that baseline setup.”

If the setup gets much better, Gordon might just lap the field. Then he could really claim the title of best road-racer in NASCAR.

Staff Writer Lee Montgomery can be reached at lee.montgomery@rmg3.com

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