Gordon, Stewart temper acrimony, prepare for Pocono Raceway

Posted: Sunday, June 12, 2005

LONG POND, Pa. — Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have tempered the anger that followed a crash the last time they raced.

Although they haven't spoken, Gordon said Saturday that the superstar NASCAR drivers have exchanged phone messages.

''He said that he was sorry about what happened and he wanted to talk to me,'' Gordon said Saturday at Pocono Raceway. ''I said, 'I got your message. Don't worry about it. I'm moving on. Let's go racing.'''

So, there has been no face-to-face discussion at Pocono — where their haulers are parked less than 4 feet apart. They race here Sunday in the Pocono 500.

A week ago at Dover International Speedway, Stewart spun out a slower Gordon early in the race. Gordon said it was unnecessary and that he would have moved over. Stewart said Gordon didn't allow him the courtesy to go by despite knowing he had the faster car.

An angry Gordon said he would move Stewart out of the way quickly the next time their situations were reversed, and Stewart said he wouldn't mind another crash if that's what Gordon wanted.

Gordon said tight racing among top drivers sometimes breeds problems and leads to anger in the heat of competition.

''I've been through a lot of things over the years, and stuff happens,'' Gordon said. ''We're going to race hard for a number of years. Sometimes things are going to go his way and sometimes they're going to go my way. Accidents are going to happen.

''I definitely think the cars are a little bit more on edge. We've got to give and take a little bit more and not less. But you know that if you can keep that guy behind you that it's a huge advantage.''

Stewart acknowledged late Friday the exchange of messages with Gordon but did not elaborate other than to say he didn't expect a carry-over from Dover in Sunday's race. Stewart left the track immediately after qualifying 26th Saturday, and his spokesman said he would have no additional comments.

The lack of further acrimony is good for the concentration of both drivers, particularly Gordon, who has fallen to 11th in the Nextel Cup standings. The four-time NASCAR champion has crashed out of three straight races and smacked the wall while qualifying 31st Saturday.

Despite their differences, Stewart is convinced Gordon is still a major player.

''Jeff is definitely going to come up,'' Stewart said. ''He'll be back in the top 10 after this week. There's no doubt in my mind about that.''

For the first time in years, Gordon is out of the top 10 this late in a season. And even though teammate Jimmie Johnson is the points leader, Hendrick Motorsports has a reached the crossroads in its battle with Roush Racing for supremacy in the sport.

Roush drivers Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch have won the last two championships. But Gordon thinks his team and others can close the gap on Roush.

''It's inevitable as the season goes along,'' he said.

Right now, the Roush team is on a roll. Greg Biffle got his series-leading fourth victory at Dover, giving Roush drivers six in the first 13 races. Despite his troubles, Gordon has won three times. Johnson, hoping to become only the third driver to win three straight races on this 2.5-mile track, has two victories.

Gordon doesn't like they way he'll have to seek his fourth Pocono victory.

''I'm really against what they've got here,'' he said of the gearing rule NASCAR is using, one that will prevent downshifting in the sharp turns on the triangular layout.

Waltrip wins first pole in 14 years at Pocono

LONG POND, Pa. — It took 14 years to do it, but Michael Waltrip is once again a polesitter on NASCAR's top circuit.

The 42-year-old from Owensboro, Ky., ended a qualifying drought of 446 races by putting his Chevrolet in the top spot Saturday at Pocono Raceway. Waltrip got around the 2.5-mile triangular-shaped oval at 169.052 mph for his first pole since Michigan in 1991.

He edged Nextel Cup series champion Kurt Busch, who will start on the outside of the front row Sunday in the $4.75 million Pocono 500. It was the third career pole for two-time Daytona 500 champion Waltrip, a regular in the series since 1984.

''I remember that pole at Michigan and Dover (a month earlier), and I didn't dream that I'd be an old man when I won my next one,'' Waltrip said.

Although he knew he had a strong car, Waltrip expressed surprise that he was able to put it on the pole.

''I got a little sideways,'' he said. ''We weren't prefect, but we were good enough.''

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