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Gordon Exploring Ownership Of Land In Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 6 2009
Jeff Gordon broke on through at Texas during the spring race. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Jeff Gordon broke on through at Texas during the spring race. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fort Worth, Texas – Jeff Gordon’s comfort level has grown exponentially during the last calendar year at Texas Motor Speedway, a personal purgatory for much of his stellar Sprint Cup Series career.

Gordon qualified on-pole Friday afternoon for Sunday’s Dickies 500, extending a streak that has seen him claim at least one Coors Light Pole Award for 17 consecutive seasons. Gordon toured TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval in 28.255-seconds/191.117 mph to capture his 68th career pole and add to an impressive run of recent numbers here.

Gordon qualified first and finished second in last November’s Dickies 500, won by Carl Edwards. Gordon qualified second and went on to win the Samsung 500 here in April _ scoring his first Cup victory in Texas in his 17th career start. The difference, Sir Jeff said, is just hard work.

“I would hardly say we own the place,” said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Impala SS. “But you know, I think that we really didn’t get enough credit for the first three or four races here. We were the best car at just about every one of those races (1997-99) and we just had crazy weird things happen to us. Those are sometimes things you can’t control. But it just started a trend of not good results and they just continued.”

A four-time series champion, Gordon will share the front row with Kasey Kahne, who qualified the No. 9 Budweiser Dodge Charger at 28.276-seconds/190.975 mph. Series points-leader Jimmie Johnson, who is bearing down on a record fourth consecutive championship, will start 12th after a hot lap of 28.442-seconds/189.860 mph in the No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevy.

Gordon trails Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate and protégé, by 192 points with three races remaining. Mark Martin, also of HMS, is second and trails Johnson by 184 points. Despite the long odds of catching Johnson, Gordon said he and crew chief Steve Letarte have not been mailing-anything-in.

“We were working hard (for poles) every weekend. And you know we’ve been very close,” said Gordon, whose win at TMS is his only one of the season to-date. “There were times when I really felt we had a pole. And it’s like a win, you know? You hope you get it early and accomplish it and get it out of the way so you don’t have to think and worry about it and it doesn’t build; especially when you’ve done it 16 years in a row.

“To finally get it, it doesn’t matter to me if it happens the first race of the last race, really, other than it just takes a little bit of heat off if you do it early. But the fact that we did get it and to do it here at Texas, a track where we have struggled at until recently, this is a great place to do it and we’re focused on ending this season the best we possibly can.  
”We’ve got three races left and we want poles. We want wins. We want to get a lot of points and get ourselves as high up in the points as we possibly can for the championship and also build something for next year. It’s an honor to have 17 straight (pole-winning) seasons, I will say. It’s something we’re very proud of.”

Gordon, who posted his first Cup pole at TMS in the 2007 spring race, admitted there was a stretch of races at TMS where he ran “just terrible” – including nine in which he failed to lead a single lap.

“And when there’s a track like that, that challenges us this much, it really makes us go to work,” Gordon said. “And it inspires us to try and find something to get better. But it’s a total team effort. If I’m not liking what I feel, we can’t just say, ‘Oh well, our teammate’s running good so just put their set-up in.’ It just doesn’t work, not always. And so we tried that anyway and it didn’t work. So it was really about finding something that worked for us.

“But you know, last year at this time we went to work hard on the 1.5-mile tracks in the Chase. We were out of it and it allowed us to sort of do some testing and we tried some things that we hit on and it really seemed to pay off here. And so we improved our results the time we were here last year, and then we built on that over the offseason and had the results we had here earlier in the season. It’s just hard work.”

Kahne, meanwhile, turned the information he gathered during practice into a “really good lap.” Sunday’s race is scheduled for 334 laps/501 miles.

‘“Everything was perfect there,” said Kahne, ninth in points after a second-place finish last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. “I felt like I was really quick in (Turns) 1 and 2, and might have given up just a touch in Turns 3 and 4. It was still a great lap. It was quick in practice. We just needed a touch more and Kenny Francis (crew chief) and the team gave it to me.”

Kahne, of Richard Petty Motorsports, confirmed that he is competing here with Dodge’s latest R6 V-8 engine. “The engine is running awesome. It just felt really good,” said Kahne, winner of the spring race here in2006. “I could feel the racetrack around the whole corner and down the straightaways. It was really about all I had. I’m looking forward to this weekend. We’ve made some really nice gains in our engine shop here the last few months.”

Row 2 is occupied by former series champions Kurt Busch of Penske Racing and Tony Stewart, owner/driver of Stewart-Haas Racing. Busch will start third after lapping at 28.281-seconds/190.941 mph; Stewart earned the fourth spot at 28.328 seconds/190.624 mph in the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Impala SS.  Stewart is fifth in points among the 12 Chasers, a massive 279 behind Johnson. Busch is sixth, 312 points out.

“It was an excellent lap,”  said Busch, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger. “We thought we could do OK, but we exceeded our expectations by running third. To be three-hundredths of a second from getting the pole, it makes you scratch your head and think maybe if I tried a little harder, I would have got it. But then there are times when you try too hard and you overstep the line and end up 15th to 20th. It’s a really, really good lap for us.

“This car is brand new. We wanted to bring it to Charlotte, but I thought we should take a step back with the car that we brought to Charlotte and use this one here at Texas. A little bit of R & D work going on. Right now, I would say the engineering department is winning over the driver, and that’s the way it always should be. The lap was a nice surprise for us.”

Joey Logano (14th) was the highest-qualifying Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate, posting a lap at 28.451-seconds/189.800 mph in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing.

“The car drove pretty good,” said Logano, 19th in points overall. “Wish our car had a little bit more grip.  Felt like I left about a half-a-tenth out there, which would have put me on the pole (at the time).  It kind of is what it is there. I got into (Turn) 3 and I got to the gas a little bit too hard, initially. It sent me off the line. I went through the first time and said, ‘Wow, this thing has a lot of grip.’  And, I went through the second time expecting the grip _ and it did, just not as much as I thought.

“In qualifying, you’d rather get a little bit extra and slip up a little bit than under drive it. Can’t be too disappointed with it. I wish we were P1, but overall can’t complain that much.”

Speaking from the experience of six finishes of 22nd or worse here – including two 43rd/last-place runs – Gordon warned that TMS, even as its surface continues to mature, remains a tricky track.

“The straightaways are very flat here compared to how high-banked the corners are,” said Gordon, who lead 105 laps in April and has paced 446 overall. “And those transitions really challenge you. Plus there’s some bumps and the corners are fast. But they’re tight. The walls come out at you very, very quick. So it’s not an easy track. Even when we won here earlier in the season, it was not an easy win. There were times when the car was pretty out of control, so we expect a lot of the same of that on Sunday. And we’re going to work hard on that (Saturday).”

Two Cup practices are scheduled beginning at 8:45 a.m. Saturday, with the final Happy Hour session from 10 to 11 a.m. The checkered flag is scheduled to fall Sunday at 2 p.m., CST.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 6 2009
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