Gordon has had his share of problems at Pocono

Posted: Friday, June 15, 2001

LONG POND, Pa. -- Ask Jeff Gordon about Pocono International Raceway, and he can't come up with a description of any of his three victories.

But, sounding more like a career also-ran than a three-time Winston Cup champion, Gordon has a list of excuses for his defeats.

''I've lost by missing a shift, I've spun out and I've been stuck in the mud,'' he said.

There are 42 other drivers hoping Gordon will have some new material, like an explanation Sunday of why he didn't win the Pocono 500. He hasn't had to say much three of the past four weekends -- just thank the sponsors, pocket the winner's share and go home.

He won NASCAR's non-points all-star event May 19, coming from the rear of the field in a backup car. A week later, he again had the look of a winner, but lost a chance because of a collision on pit road.

Then he led 381 of 400 laps while winning at Dover, Del., and took the points lead with a victory last Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. There, he led 143 of 200 laps for a two-race total of 524 of 600.

He's beginning to resemble the Gordon of old, the one who got 47 of his 55 career victories from 1995-99.

He thinks the current run of domination could continue a while.

''I've seen this team get stronger and stronger,'' Gordon said. ''We just have to be sure we don't beat ourselves."

Then he laughs, as if to remind himself he's at Pocono, where caution flags have flown for both animals and humans running on the track, where he has beaten himself more than once.

''The race I missed the shift on the restart while leading stands out in my mind,'' he said of 1995. ''I made a mistake that cost me the win.''

Another time, it was even more embarrassing.

''There was a late restart and I was in the top five with a strong car,'' Gordon said. ''I was scuffing my tires in turn one when I lost control of the car. It had rained the night before and I got stuck in the mud. When I finally got out of the mud, I had to restart at the tail end of the lead lap.

''It wasn't funny then, but I can laugh about it now.''

With three wins, four seconds and a third in his last 11 starts at Pocono, Gordon might have the car to beat again Sunday. His toughest opponent appears to be Jeremy Mayfield, who won last June by tapping the late Dale Earnhardt and passing him a quarter-mile from the end.

Mayfield, who also won the race in 1998, led the Pennsylvania 500 last July until blowing a tire on the final lap.

''We've had a great car here in the past, fantastic cars last year,'' Mayfield said. ''And we're looking to pick up right where we left off.''

Another driver who loves racing on the unique, triangular-shaped layout is Sterling Marlin, the polesitter in this event in 1999. Marlin is eager to give Dodge its first victory since 1978. The automaker is back this season after a 16-year absence from Winston Cup racing.

Marlin finished third last Sunday behind Gordon and Ricky Rudd, but with better luck might have won the Kmart 400.

''I think me and Jeff the last half of the race were well matched,'' Marlin said.

''It's a big if, but I think if the caution hadn't come out we would have won.''

Marlin had a substantial lead on Gordon, but lost most of it when the field closed up after a late yellow flag.

Chip Ganassi, who owns Marlin's car, is being patient about Dodge not winning any of the first 14 races.

''All you can do is put yourself in position to win week in and week out,'' he said. ''Anybody that has won races can tell you, and I'm sure Jeff can tell you this, it's a good thing those guys have the benefit of a couple of yellows there.

''Had that thing gone green the last 15 laps, I don't know that the headlines would be Gordon and Rudd duking it out.''

A victory Sunday would move Gordon into a tie with four other drivers for the most Pocono victories.

Among the four-time winners is Rusty Wallace, who inherited the lead and won last July when teammate Mayfield's tire blew.



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