Gordon coming off bumps in the road

Posted: Sunday, June 13, 2004

LONG POND, Pa. (AP) Jeff Gordon puts the discouraging finishes in his rearview mirror as easily as he does his victories.

Gordon refuses to dwell on what goes right or wrong in one race when another is just around the turn. Still, Gordon acknowledges that's been tougher to do after finishing 30th in Charlotte, then 36th last week in Dover.

''We obviously can't continue this streak like this,'' said Gordon, who starts sixth in Sunday's Pocono 500. ''We have to have good runs.''

Gordon was cruising toward another typical season after consecutive first-place finishes in Talladega and California and reached as high as third in the points standings.

But he ran into trouble in Richmond when his No. 24 Chevrolet looked nothing like that of a four-time Nextel Cup champion. Gordon said his car never felt right and he fell a lap behind pace.

Last week at Dover, he blew a tire and hit the wall.

''Charlotte was far more disappointing than last weekend because we just ran horrible,'' he said. ''I'd rather blow a right front or crash running up front and have a shot at a win then run bad all day. Hopefully we got that one out of the way.''

He'll find out Sunday, where the 2 1/2-mile triangular track has been kind to the former Rainbow Warrior. Gordon won here in 1996 and 1997, and also won the Pennsylvania 500, held later in the summer, in 1998.

''If you look at past history, it's easy to say you must be looking forward to come here,'' Gordon said. ''That's why I'm so excited about this weekend, because we qualified well and the car is just really, really strong. I'm looking forward to tomorrow. We're going to have a lot of fun.''

No matter where he finished last week, or two weeks, before, Gordon is always a contender.

''With Jeff, you can't count him out,'' said Jimmie Johnson, who drives for Gordon.

Not with 66 victories, 178 top-5 finishes and earnings of nearly $61 million.

It's been 10 years since Gordon burst onto the scene with a win at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Since then, he's been one of the most consistent performers in NASCAR. That consistency carried into this year, when he reeled off five straight top-10 finishes, including the two wins.

''The confidence that we built from those two races, and up to those races, is still there,'' Gordon said, now sporting some strands of gray hair in his sideburns.

The two first-place finishes and six top-10 finishes this season have Gordon fifth in the points standings. He needs to be in the top-10 in points after the 26th race to contend for the championship.

That makes Gordon a fan of the overhauled, first-year system.

''We've had three bad races and we're fifth in points. I'm liking it,'' he said. ''Had we been in the old points system, I'd really be concerned right now.''

Instead, he's only concerned about Pocono. When a reporter tried to ask him about next week's race in Michigan, Gordon wouldn't bite. ''Let's talk about Pocono. Anyone got anything about Pocono?'' he asked.

Then Gordon, his eyes masked by his ever-present shades, expressed optimism about a turnaround for his Hendrick Motorsports team.

''We can't allow the weeks that we've had ... to happen too often, but it is something that we can move past fairly easily if we just put together a good string of top-5s, top-10s even,'' Gordon said.

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