Gordon Vs Gordon

I’m sorry. I just don’t get it. Yes, I know there are people who really like Winston Cup races on road courses. I used to back when they ran em on bias ply tires and Tim Richmond was still driving. And the people who love this sort of racing really love it, while people like me who don’t care for it loathe it. And before the snide email starts saying I don’t like Sonoma because Robby Gordon won I swear I disliked New Hampshire and Sears Point long before Gordon won either race.

There’s nothing wrong with Winston Cup race cars and there’s nothing wrong with road courses. The two just don’t go together. It’s like holding a ballet at an ice rink. There’s nothing wrong with ice rinks. I’m told there’s nothing wrong with ballet though I’ve never been to one. Any women that flexible have got to have possibilities. But the combination of the two would be sloppy. And while there’s some very good road racers who either run full time in the Cup series or are imported for these two races a year, most of the pack looks like a pack of golden retriever puppies hitting a frozen lake. They’re eager, enthusiastic and running for all their worth with their tongues hanging out the side of their mouths, but they’re going every which way but where they intended. And yes, I’m aware of the ice ballet. I just think it’s a stupid sport.

I tried hard to like Sunday’s race. Really I did. Sonoma is a good road course and except for figuring out the traffic situation they’ve done everything possible to improve fan amenities even while a bunch of California eco-weenies have carried on about red legged frogs and aesthetics driving track management to distraction. I guess what bothers me about Cup road course race is two things I noted on Sunday. First, they are decided by and large in the pits and the strategy is a game of chance as far as when cautions fly. And NASCAR made some real suspicious calls in that area Sunday. Why did the carcass of Matt Kenseth’s shredded tire warrant a caution while a three car simultaneous spin that blocked the track and gathered up another passel of cars not warrant the yellow? Why did Bobby Labonte’s two spins not cause a caution but as soon as Dale Earnhardt Jr. went off the track they tossed the yellow hanky. I’m not saying Ron Fellows would have won the race but he had a far better car than his seventh place finish shows. The team just didn’t guess pit strategy correctly. Secondly, it seems the nature of road courses that much like plate races the drivers don’t really go for it until the last eight or nine laps. So why watch the entire race?

Robby Gordon won the race. There. I said it. After my “Hell Freezes Over” column that announced his first win a very angry Robby Gordon fan wrote me to say he was going to write me every time Gordon won to rub my face in it. It’s been a couple years since I heard from ya. Hope you’re doing well. After all the mess it’s the same email address. In all seriousness Robby drove a great race holding the Other White Gordon behind him in those waning laps. It could have gotten real interesting if the 24 had managed to get on the bumper of the 31 considering Robby spun Jeff in the previous battle of the Gordon’s at NHIS Thanksgiving weekend 2001. For teammates Gordon and Harvick just don’t play nicely together. They made contact several times and Gordon passed Harvick racing back to the caution which got team owner Richard Childress so incensed he warned the winning driver, “If you go and tear a bunch of my stuff up, I’m going to be hot.”

Jeff Gordon lost the battle but won the war. His second place finish moves him into second in the points standings as well. This was a weekend where Gordon clearly had an opportunity to make up a lot of ground over Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the standings, but the other two drivers minimized the damage with decent if unspectacular runs. Kenseth still holds a comfortable lead and Junior is just two points behind Gordon as the series heads for Daytona, which is often the younger Earnhardt's personal playground.

Kevin Harvick finished third after battling hard with his teammate for much of the race. He may have knocked the toe-in out on his car in one particularly hard collision with the 31 car exiting turn 11 late in the going because the 29 seemed to fade after that. Either that of Richard Childress told Harvick he was going to work over his head with a hammer if he wrecked his teammate.

Bill Elliott’s fourth place result was particularly amazing on a road course, which requires frequent shifting considering his still healing foot. The fourth place finish matches Elliott’s best previous finish of the 2003 season. (California)

Ryan Newman has finished in the top 10 in all three of his Winston Cup road course starts. He’s finished in the top 5 in the last two. You know when he’s not flipping over or on fire this young man is a pretty good little racer.

Boris Said had the best finish of any of the road course ringers imported for this race. The Winston Cup regulars showed Said all the courtesy they normally do outsiders which is to say none at all. But Said is no pushover. He was recently suspended in the Trans Am series for one of his epic tirades about that sanctioning body. And back in 1997 Said felt Rich Bickle did him dirty at Sonoma in a truck race. So Said laid in wait, drove hard into the side of Bickle’s truck, and sent Bickle off the track and onto his roof. That wreck cost Bickle the title.

Ron Fellows, another ringer, finished seventh because of flawed pit strategy. (Flawed at least in the way it played out during the curious timing of caution flags.) He once again drove a brilliant race and his move to pass both Harvick and Gordon while they were battling for the lead was classic. Jeremy Mayfield didn’t aid Fellows cause either spinning the 1 car racing to the caution. You’d think Mayfield, who finished tenth, would have more regard for his Fellows man.

Rusty Wallace started experiencing brake problems mid-way through the race. Still he managed to hang on and come away with a top ten finish. (Eighth.) If we’re going to start another “Modern Era” now that Nextel is assuming the sponsorship role Winston took over at the start of the last modern era Wallace may find himself locked out of the record books.

Bobby Labonte has been on a tear as of late finishing in the top 10 in seven of the last eight races and in the top 5 six times in that same stretch.

Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth finished 11th and 14th respectively and respectably to minimize the damage done to their hopes for a title this season.

So again, I’m sorry, I just don’t get it. If you’re a road course racing fan I surely hope you enjoyed the heck out of it because even as a detractor I’ll give you there were some entertaining moments Sunday. Just not enough to justify spending an entire afternoon watching. For my fellow detractors, well there’s always hope there’s something for us purists in this Realignment 2004 stuff after all.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2003

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