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Minter: Gordon Takes Goodyear Off The Hook At Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 23 2009
Jeff Gordon and Greg Stucker of Goodyear were pleased with the recent tire tests at Indy.

Jeff Gordon and Greg Stucker of Goodyear were pleased with the recent tire tests at Indy.

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Midweek Observations:

* There’s considerable debate out there this week about whether NASCAR’s honeymoon phase with Indianapolis Motor Speedway has come to an end. That’s probably a given no matter how things have gone at the Brickyard over the years. But it’s important to note that NASCAR has been running there since 1994. A lot of marriages don’t last that long, let alone the honeymoon phase.

Putting a strain on the relationship in recent years are tire problems last year, which appear to have been resolved, and the switch to the Car of Tomorrow, which could use some tweaking.

Four-time Indy winner Jeff Gordon pointed out the differences in racing at Indy with NASCAR’s COT and the older conventional car on this week’s NASCAR teleconference.

“I think track positions may be a little bit more important now than it was,” he said. “If you remember back in 1994, me and Ernie Irvan swapping positions every lap, you don’t see as much of that happen.

“The older cars, it seemed like out front you would get a lot looser and then have a hard time carrying the speed through the corner.  And the old car didn’t get quite as aero sensitive as this car. This car now, it’s such a premium to be out front. It is punching such a bigger hole, it makes it more challenging for the car behind.”

Gordon also pointed out something about last year’s tire debacle that hasn’t been mentioned a lot in the past year. He said it wasn’t all Goodyear’s fault. Teams were still adapting to the COT, trying new setups. A testing ban was in place, and the track itself likely was different, something that happens to all venues over time.

“I think Goodyear took the brunt of it, and it is not just all their responsibility,” he said. “I mean, those tires were wearing out for a number of reasons and, yet, they took it and ran with it.  And it took a long time… to figure out what tire and what compound was going to work there.”

* One of the true treasures of the NASCAR-at-Indy weekend is the racing down the road in Clermont, at O’Reilly Raceway Park.

There you’ll find one of the best short tracks in America, surrounded by corn fields, a fuel tank farm and one of drag racing’s most historic strips.

There’s never a lack of action, and this weekend’s races for both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series find the two points leaders chasing significant records.

Kyle Busch isn’t quite up to his usual speed in the Sprint Cup Series, but he’s on track to have a record year in the Nationwide Series.

Heading into this weekend’s race at ORP, he’s finished either first or second in the past seven races. If he does that two more times he’ll tie Jack Ingram’s record of nine.

And with six wins this year in 19 starts, he’s closing in on the series single-season win record of 10, which he and Sam Ard share. He also can reach Jeff Green’s record of single-season top-five finishes (25) and Kevin Harvick’s top-10 record (32). Busch now has 13 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes.

In Friday’s truck race at ORP, that circuit’s points leader Ron Hornaday Jr. will be trying to become the first truck series driver ever to win four consecutive races. His win last week at Kentucky Speedway was his third straight, a feat he also accomplished in 1997.

ORP is as good a place as Hornaday could find to go for the record-setting victory. He has two wins there, in 1997 and 2007, and he also leads the series in short track victories.

* Here’s a name to start looking for in the future – Parker Kligerman.

The 18-year-old development driver for Penske Racing, originally was set to run a limited schedule in ARCA this season. But he’s dominating the series, and his last-lap win at Kentucky Speedway last Saturday was his fourth straight victory and his fifth in the past six races. He’s also leading the points standings.

Kligerman’s Kentucky victory came at the expense of Alabama short tracker Grant Enfinger, who was leading late in the race even though his tires were more worn that Kligerman’s.

* Mark Martin isn’t the only “old” driver in NASCAR who isn’t acting his age. Bill Elliott has turned in strong performances in the Wood Brothers Ford in his past few starts. At Chicagoland, the part-time driver qualified eighth and ran towards the front of the pack until problems on pit stops set him back.

Jeff Gordon says that in NASCAR age really isn’t an issue.

“I think experience is very key in our series,” he said. “Knowing how to balance out the patience and aggressiveness, and if you have that ability, I don’t think it ever goes away, doesn’t change. I think it is either in you or it’s not. It doesn’t matter how old you are.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 23 2009
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