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Gordon Hoping For Cool Reception At Pocono

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, July 29 2016
Jeff Gordon is back behind the wheel of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Sprint Cup car at Pocono Raceway this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Garry Eller)

Jeff Gordon is back behind the wheel of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Sprint Cup car at Pocono Raceway this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Garry Eller)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Jeff Gordon’s good news/bad news moment this weekend comes courtesy of the Accuweather forecasting website. First the bad; rain in the area of Pocono Raceway for much of the weekend. The good; high temperatures in the low to mid 70s over the weekend.

sprint-logo-08After last weekend’s Turkish bath-like conditions in Indianapolis for Gordon’s first Sprint Cup comeback race, the forecast for a little rain in western Pennsylvania on Saturday and Sunday is offset like crazy but the cool temperatures.

During his first race in the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, it wasn’t hour after hour on the demanding, tortilla-flat 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway that caused Gordon the most grief. It was the humidity…and the 90-plus degree heat.

“I wasn’t tired I was hot,” the four-time champion who stepped away from his full-time ride at Hendrick after the end of the 2015 season said. “There is a difference.”

About everybody in racing has spent the last five days asking Gordon questions like; so, how did it go?

Hot is how it went.

“The hydration system that I have had for years that was in the car, the cooling system upgrades that they had at the No. 88 team that was blowing the air in my helmet did its job,” Gordon said Friday at his Pocono press conference. :I was able to stay hydrated and stay ahead of the dehydration. I didn’t get any cramping. I did get hot. I didn’t feel like the air was cooling me

Jeff Gordon had a hot time in Indy last week. A cooler time in Pocono would be welcome. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett )

Jeff Gordon had a hot time in Indy last week. A cooler time in Pocono would be welcome. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett )

as much as I wanted it to the second half of the race, but because I stayed up on the hydration, and I drank every drop that was in there, the red flag didn’t help it was really hot when that red flag came out.”

Other than that, how did you enjoy the ham sandwich Mama Cass?

“But, all things considered I thought it went pretty well from what I heard from some of the other drivers. Definitely, my body, the muscles that I haven’t used in a while were on fire Monday and Tuesday.  That part is a little bit different.  Even the activities that I have been doing over the last several months that are more outdoor activities not a lot of in the gym type stuff doesn’t light my back up like being in the race car, but I felt good today.”

Gordon qualified 21st and finished 13 at Indy. He started slowly and improved as the miles ticked away.

The one aspect where the rot showed through was restarts. Poor ones cost Gordon track position more than once.

Oops, he said.

“Well the restarts, I wish there was a way to practice restarts,” Gordon said. “We go and test race cars, but we don’t test restarts. Ever since the double-file restarts have come into play it’s changed the sport and the game in a big way. Some are better at it than others. And let’s clarify; a restart is not getting to fourth gear. A restart is going through Turn 1, Turn 2, Turn 3, Turn 4, the first few corners in the lap and being on the outside or inside it’s not about going up through the gears.  That part is pretty easy.

“I mean I feel like I do that as good or better than anybody, but it’s what happens when you get to the turn and how you are aggressively picking lines and making moves and making up positions.  Also, I don’t think you can evaluate the leader either.  The leader has control of it.  They made a bigger restart box which only helps the leader, which is a good thing.  I think the leader should be in control of that.  Before it was almost too small and it was giving the others around them an advantage.  But, Kyle (Busch, who won at Indy), I think no matter where he starts is one of the best out there.

“Kyle always is at the top.  You take the fastest car, the best team, one of the best drivers and the best restarter and that is going to be a dangerous combination to beat.  It’s something I wish I was better at.  Some of it I felt like was some handling characteristics and air pressure in the tires, but a lot of it was just me needing to do a little bit better job paying attention to where the runs were coming from behind me or trying to get the runs ahead of me.”

Gordon spoke to the media after the first practice of the day. How did that go?

“The first few laps today were definitely again a steep learning curve,” he said. “This is a very challenging race track so it’s going to be a tough, challenging weekend, but I do like this track and a little bit to learn with this new package.”

How long the challenge will continue – that is, how long before Junior takes his ride back – has still not been determined.

The next race after Pocono is the road race at Watkins Glen. Gordon is considered one of the best road course drivers in Cup history.

He was asked about driving The Glen. That all depends on Earnhardt and doctors.

“Well, we have to cross that bridge when we get there,” Gordon said. “It was great last Friday to see him say ‘hey I feel good today and made some progress.’  We want to just keep going with how he is feeling.  The doctors are evaluating.  I’m not speculating anything at this time.  I wouldn’t be here in Pocono if I wasn’t committed to be there for Hendrick Motorsports and this team in any way that they need me.

“I think there is a balance between trying to make this transition.  First of all you want Dale to have the comfort of knowing that somebody is there for him.  He doesn’t have to worry about that aspect of it through this process.  Just get well at the pace that is the right pace to do it.  So, nobody is putting any pressure or time frame on that.  He may be putting that on himself more than anybody else.  Then there is the side of who is the best person to be in the car to get the most points.”

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NASCAR Sprint Cup SeriesRace: Pennsylvania 400

Place: Pocono Raceway

Date and Time: Sunday, July 31 at 1:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 400 miles (160 laps)

What to Watch For: Jeff Gordon subs for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet for the second consecutive weekend after finishing 13th at Indy. … Kurt Busch attempts to sweep Pocono. He will also go for the record for most consecutive races running every lap to start the season. He tied the record of 20 races – set by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2012 – last week in Indianapolis … Kyle Larson looks to solidify his spot in the Chase after climbing onto the Grid (16th) for the first time since the second week of the season. … Chase Elliott eyes his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Pocono where he led a race-high 51 laps in June.

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NASCAR XFINITY Series

Race: U.S. Cellular 250

Place: Iowa Speedway

Date and Time: Saturday, July 30 at 8 p.m. ET

Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 218.75 miles (250 laps)

What to Watch For: Sam Hornish Jr. attempts to sweep Iowa after winning there in June. This time, he will pilot the Richard Childress Racing No. 2 Chevrolet instead of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. … Iowa Speedway launches a four-race stretch of contests at distinct tracks. Drivers go from Iowa’s 0.875-mile quick short track to road courses at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course before transitioning to the high-banked short-track Bristol Motor Speedway. … Three Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders – Erik Jones, Brandon Jones and Brennan Poole are on pace to make the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase.

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NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Race: Pocono Mountains 150

Date and Time: Saturday, July 30 at 1 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 150 miles (60 laps)

What to Watch For: NASCAR Next alumnus Rico Abreu looks to build off his career-best third-place finish at Eldora. … 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year Brett Moffitt takes the wheel for Red Horse Racing in the No. 11 Toyota. … Cameron Hayley goes back to Pocono Raceway, where he battled Kyle Busch for the win last year before finishing fourth.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, July 29 2016
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