A wiser Gordon returns to Pocono


LONG POND, Pa. -- It was just a month ago that Jeff Gordon found himself in his usual position but with an unusual outcome.

Gordon was dominating the UAW-GM Teamwork 500 at Pocono Raceway -- leading 124 of the 200 laps -- until the unusual happened.

With seven laps remaining, Gordon missed a gear shift and ended up 16th, giving way to Hendrick Motorsports teammate )) Terry Labonte for the victory.

"I just got careless," Gordon said. "Instead of really concentrating on hitting every shift . . . I really don't know what I was thinking about. Obviously, I wasn't thinking about shifting. I was just thinking about getting up to speed as fast as I could. It was a mistake that I made, and hopefully I'll learn from it and never make it again."

Since then, Gordon, 23, has been on a mission. He has almost dominated every race, having led the most laps in the three races since and has back-to-back victories (Daytona and New Hampshire) heading into today's Miller Genuine Draft 500 at Pocono Raceway.

"I might have been a little [angry] after that," Gordon said. "That might have had a little to do with it. I knew I was better than that, and I knew I shouldn't have made that mistake.

"I'm in that stage right now where you learn a lot. I learned that, hey, it's not over till it's over. You've got to have patience from the first lap to the last lap. That has paid off in every race since then."

Since his 16th-place finish at Pocono, Gordon has gained 215 points on Dale Earnhardt and 86 points on Sterling Marlin. He leads Marlin by 40 points and has a 92-point lead over Earnhardt in the Winston Cup points standings.

The 1993 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year is the first driver this year to post back-to-back wins. Rusty Wallace is the last driver to win three straight last year.

Gordon leads his peers in money won ($1,577,100), poles (seven), victories (five) and top five finishes (10) and has led at least one lap in 15 of the 16 races this season.

"He's running real good right now," Marlin said. "They got a combination figured out, and it's working real good for them. We just got to step up our game a notch now."

It's been a little more than two years since Gordon made his debut, and never did he dream of being at the top of his profession so quickly.

"No way . . . absolutely not," Gordon said. "As a race car driver or maybe just as a competitor you feel that you are as good as other people out there even though you are a lot younger. You want to be the best, but you never think that it'll come true."

A lot of Gordon's success can be attributed to the chemistry he has with his crew, especially crew chief Ray Evernham.

In last week's Slick 50 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway, Gordon overcame a 21st starting spot (due to damaging the car in qualifying) to take home the winner's check. The victory was more satisfying because of the strategy Evernham, 37, used.

With Gordon's Chevrolet Monte Carlo damaged, Evernham, a former NASCAR modified racer, decided to have Gordon change only two tires instead of four under yellow flag pits to gain ground.

"For whatever reasons why things click like they do and why the chemistry is there, you don't always know," Gordon said. "When it's there, it's like magic. Right now we have the right mixture."

Said Evernham: "Jeff and I are as close as it can get without being related. We are just two good racers. I never had the kind of talent he had. I see him being able to do everything I always wanted to do, and he sees me as a person who can get him what he needs in a race car."

Pocono Raceway is one track where victory has eluded Gordon, who will start out of the 11th position today. Gordon, who will start 11th today, has never won at Pocono. In five starts, he has never finished higher than sixth and has just two top 10 finishes.

"Something's got a jinx on me," Gordon said. "We've been in position to win here. One time I was running third and spun out under caution. I've had engine trouble here, missed shifts. We've had a lot of crazy things happen to us here."

NOTE: Wallace, who was not allowed to qualify Friday, was the fastest second-round qualifier yesterday with a speed of 159.912 mph (56.281 seconds). His Penske Ford was equipped with roof flaps from a source that was not approved by NASCAR.

1. Bill Elliott, Ford Thunderbird, 162.496; 2. Mark Martin, Ford Thunderbird, 161.993; 3. Morgan Shepherd, Ford Thunderbird, 161.438; 4. Ken Schrader, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 161.305; 5. Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 161.273; 6. Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 161.221; 7. Ted Musgrave, Ford Thunderbird, 161.218; 8. Bobby Hamilton, Pontiac Grand Prix, 161.068; 9. Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 161.048; 10. Rick Mast, Ford Thunderbird, 161.019;

11. Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 160.953; 12. Darrell Waltrip, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 160.869; 13. Ricky Rudd, Ford Thunderbird, 160.769; 14. Ward Burton, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 160.763; 15. Dale Jarrett, Ford Thunderbird, 160.597; 16. Brett Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 160.414; 17. Kyle Petty, Pontiac Grand Prix, 160.216; 18. Hut Stricklin, Ford Thunderbird, 160.154; 19. Derrike Cope, Ford Thunderbird, 160.120; 20. Jimmy Hensley, Pontiac Grand Prix, 160.088;

21. Michael Waltrip, Pontiac Grand Prix, 160.006; 22. Rusty Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 159.912; 23. Jeff Burton, Ford Thunderbird, 159.869; 24. Terry Labonte, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 25. Dick Trickle, Ford Thunderbird, 159.810; 26. Steve Grissom, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 159.787; 27. Geoff Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 159.436; 28. Robert Pressley, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 159.388; 29. Lake Speed, Ford Thunderbird, 159.363; 30. Rich Bickle, Pontiac Grand Prix, 159.346;

31. Jimmy Spencer, Ford Thunderbird, 159.086; 32. Bobby Labonte, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 158.924; 33. Bobby Hillin, Ford Thunderbird, 158.901; 34. Kenny Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 158.615; 35. Mike Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 158.356; 36. John Andretti, Ford Thunderbird, 157.961; 37. Dave Marcis, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 157.917; 38. Jeremy Mayfield, Ford Thunderbird, 157.723; 39. Ricky Craven, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Provisional; 40. Todd Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, Provisional; 41. Elton Sawyer, Ford Thunderbird, Provisional.


What: Miller Genuine Draft 500

When: Today, 1 p.m.

Where: Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pa.


Who: Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, Sterling Marlin, Geoff Bodine and Mark Martin, among many other top drivers.

Tickets: Call (800) RACEWAY for information.

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