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Gordon On A Slump-Busting Mission in Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 5 2009

Jeff Gordon thinks this could be the weekend when a couple of droughts come to an end.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Jeff Gordon thinks this could be the weekend when a couple of droughts come to an end. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fort Worth, Texas – His mounting frustration at Texas Motor Speedway has been compounded by a  career-long  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winless streak. Believe it when Jeff Gordon says he is aware of the numbing numbers: 0-for-16 at TMS; 0-for-47 since his most recent Cup victory.

“I’m aware of it because I’m constantly reminded of it. I get asked five or 10 of these questions every week,” said Gordon, a four-time Cup champion visiting one of his two personal circles of hell this weekend. 

TMS and Homestead-Miami Speedway, both 1.5-mile ovals, remain the only tracks where Gordon has yet to win. But dating to a second-place finish here in November, and his current position as Cup points-leader, there is reason to believe that Gordon can erase TMS off his to-do list during today’s Samsung 500.

“I know this is a track that we definitely have been hit-or-miss,” said Gordon, who has two second-place finishes (2002 and fall 2008) bracketed by two 43rd-place finishes (1999 and spring 2008) on his TMS driver’s log. “I want to win here bad. This team deserves to win here. They put ourselves in position to win here a couple of times and just haven’t had all the things that you need to have happen at the end of the race go our way.

“I really think we can win this thing this weekend. Our 1.5-mile program has really improved and I’m excited about  (Sunday) getting into our race setups and runs, because I think we got something that can work very well here.”

Gordon is carrying an 89-point lead (959-870) over Clint Bowyer into today’s scheduled 334-lapper. Through six races this season, Gordon leads the series in top- fives (four), top-10s (five), Driver Rating (119.6), Average Running Position (5.4) and Fastest Laps Run (191). Despite those stats, Gordon has not won since notching career victory No. 81 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway on Oct. 13, 2007.

His winless 2008 campaign included that second-place run to Carl Edwards in the Dickies 500 at TMS in November, when Gordon led 15 laps to raise his career total here to 341. Still, he finished 8.31 seconds behind Edwards, who completed the once-improbable two-race sweep in Cowtown.

An accident in Turn 4 knocked Gordon out of last spring’s race – a moment matching the grinding, frontstretch crash that rung his bell  in 1999.

“Looking back on it, those are pretty disappointing because we could have gotten that off our back last spring, but we were terrible,” said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont/National Guard GED Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS. “We struggled all weekend with the car and those types of situations and moments really show what you’re made of, in my opinion. We fought back really hard. We did not want to show up at the racetrack like that again, and I think it’s only made us better as a team.”

Gordon qualified on pole en route to his runner-up finish last fall. Today, he starts second after a lap at 190.194 mph on Friday afternoon. David Reutimann earned the pole at 190.517 mph in his No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota Camry.

Gordon said his consistency this season under crew chief Steve Letarte has been somewhat of a surprise. After opening the season with a 13th-place finish in the Daytona 500, Gordon has rattled off results of 2-6-2-4-4. Included was a sixth-place finish at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway and runner-up result to Kurt Busch at the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway.

His peers know that Gordon remains a contender every week, and that he is way overdue.

“That’s another scary part,” said Kyle Busch, a two-time Cup winner this season in the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry. “He’s run so strong this year and has been so consistent – that’s why we look at Jeff. You know that a guy that’s run well here in the past – he’s had a lot of bad luck but he’s also run well – you never know when he could come out and take to the track and be able to dominate a race and win one here.”

Jimmie Johnson, the three-time and reigning Cup champion, said his Hendrick Motorsports teammate is getting TMS figured out in NASCAR’s Car of Today. “Some tracks are just tough on people, and I have my handful of tracks that are that way,” said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevy.

Johnson won at TMS in his ninth career start in the fall of 2007. In his previous start at TMS, Johnson finished 38th. “For Jeff, I’d love to see him win at these two remaining tracks,” Johnson said. “I think it would be an amazing feat for a driver to win at every track that we race on.”

Gordon said his fast start – his average finish is 5.167 – has him jacked at every venue.

“With the way the team has performed this year, it doesn’t matter where we go,” Gordon said. “I feel like we have a shot at winning everywhere even here. To me, it’s working with the team to really understand the setups that we’re bringing to the racetrack, how they’re working, debriefing after the races to see how we can improve it when we go back. Just find the things that are working for us and aren’t working for us so that when they go back to the seven-post (shaker) and they go back in their sim (simulation) and their setups that are coming up and the cars that we can just make ourselves better.

“ Because we’re good right now  we’re real good. We could have won a race or two already, but we haven’t. We need to keep going down this path. We’re certainly in the right direction, which is a big improvement from last year. We know we have to get a little bit better.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 5 2009
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