Gordon Humpys Pick

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CONCORD, N.C. - H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president and general manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway, today predicted Jeff Gordon will win Saturday night's 20th running of the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge at the 1.5-mile superspeedway.

Wheeler, known for his promotional flair and Karnac-type ability, has correctly picked the winner of NASCAR's all-star race nine times in the past 15 races, including last year when Jimmie Johnson took home the $1 million prize. If Wheeler's prediction holds true, Gordon would be the first driver to win the event four times.

"If ever there was a race that was made for a specific driver, it is the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge and Jeff Gordon. He can drive a car smoothly with total reckless abandon," Wheeler said. "He can drive as deep or deeper into a corner than anybody out there. "This year was the toughest to pick because of the extremely high level of competition on the intermediate tracks,"

Wheeler continued. "Jeff Gordon is a nice, gentle person when he is outside the race car. But when he sits down in the seat and tightens those belts, it lets out a tiger. This is a combat-style race and Jeff Gordon is a very good combat pilot."

Wheeler also indicated several recent changes in Gordon's life away from the race track played into his decision to pick the four-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion.

"I don't think the fire ever went out in Jeff Gordon, but he's made some changes in his life and I see the old Jeff Gordon again," Wheeler said. "Since his stepfather, John Bickford, has gone back to work for him as his manager, Jeff's won half the races he's entered. "I don't think anyone fully appreciates the influence John has had on Jeff and his career. You've got to remember, Jeff Gordon is the first programmed race car driver in the history of the sport. From the time Gordon was 5 years old, his stepfather guided his career step by step all the way to where it is today."

The unique three-segment format of the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge often proves tough for many drivers but, according to Wheeler, not for Gordon.

"He adjusts to the chore at hand," Wheeler noted about the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet. "If it's a 600-mile race, he's going to be there in the top five with 100 miles go. If it's a shootout like this race, he'll put the gloves on."

Even though he may not fit the true definition, Wheeler tabbed defending race winner Johnson as his dark horse selection. "I picked Johnson last year and he won the thing,"

Wheeler said about the driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. "He has been doing very well on the intermediate tracks and he's in a zone. I look at how he ran at the other mile-and-a-half tracks and he's done really well. He could very easily win it again.

"My dark, dark horse is Elliott Sadler. He did a great job winning at Texas and that's a very similar track,"

Wheeler concluded. NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge activities kick off Friday night with qualifying for both races.

In addition to qualifying, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will compete in the Infineon 200. Tickets start at $20. Good seats, in various price ranges, are still available for Saturday's NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge. Tickets start at $21 and may be obtained by calling 1-800-455-FANS or online at www.lowesmotorspeedway.com.

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