Gordon still king of road

Posted: Monday, June 26, 2000

SONOMA, Calif. -- Jeff Gordon needed this.

The three-time Winston Cup champion extended his road course winning streak to six consecutive races on Sunday when he decisively won the Save Mart Kragen 350 on the twists and turns of Sears Point Raceway.

Gordon, who is working with a new crew chief, has had an uneven season with only one other win, at Talladega. Going into the race, he acknowledged the road course was important.

''I didn't expect to win,'' he said, ''but I knew I could win.''

It was Gordon's third straight victory on the 1.95-mile track in the hills of Northern California's wine country.

''We have won the last five road courses and the last two here, so I hoped we had what it would take to do it again,'' he said. ''I knew if we didn't have a strong run, there was going to be even more pressure, more people pointing fingers.''

Gordon, who started fifth, traded the lead with several drivers over the course of the 112-lap race, but managed his fuel and kept his Chevrolet in front for the final 26 laps to finish 4.1 seconds in front of Sterling Marlin. Mark Martin finished close behind in third.

''I knew I was faster,'' Gordon said of the 43-car field. ''I knew I could put the heat on them and see if I could make them make a mistake.''

Crew chief Robbie Loomis said Gordon had just enough gas.

''I think it was really close,'' Loomis said. ''I think we had enough for one more lap but it's hard to tell on a road course how much he's using and how much the car's using.''

Gordon started his record road-course streak in 1997 at Watkins Glen, N.Y., the only other serpentine track on the Winston Cup circuit.

''He's real smooth,'' Marlin said after Sunday's race.

Rusty Wallace, a road-course specialist with six overall victories on tracks with right turns, had the pole but finished a disappointing 26th.

In Winston Cup history, only Gordon, Wallace, Bobby Allison and Richard Petty have had six road course victories. Gordon is the only one with consecutive wins.

Wallace had qualified with a track record 99.309 mph on Friday. With his new Ford road-course car, Wallace beat Gordon's previous best of 98.711 mph on the track's current configuration, set during qualifying in 1998.

Freightliner/G.I. Joe's 200

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Seems like old times in CART these days with Marlboro Team Penske at the front more often than not.

Gil de Ferran gave Roger Penske's team its third victory in the last four races, holding off Roberto Moreno at the end Sunday to win the Freightliner/G.I. Joe's 200 at Portland International Raceway.

This is the same team that went just over three years without a victory until de Ferran broke through in May in Nazareth, Pa., finally giving Penske his 100th open-wheel win.

Helio Castroneves, also new to the Penske operation this year, added another win on June 18 in Detroit and the two started from the front row and kept the battle mostly to themselves until the waning moments of Sunday's race.

It was pit stops by the leaders late in the race that were the determining factor Sunday.

Castroneves led 85 of the 112 laps on the 1.969-mile, 12-turn road course, with de Ferran the one dogging the rear of his Honda-powered Reynard most of the way.

Castroneves was just under a second ahead of de Ferran when the latter made his second stop on lap 71, getting out of the pits in just 9.3 seconds. Castroneves came in a later and, taking on more fuel, wound up taking 13.6 seconds. He came out behind de Ferran on the track.

De Ferran, who won here last year while driving for Derrick Walker, got another break when Moreno's crew made a costly error while fueling his car on his last pit stop.

Moreno, easily getting the best mileage among the leaders, made only two fuel stops in the race lengthened from 98 laps last year. The strategy looked perfect until the fueler on his Patrick Racing car failed to open the valve and it took about five seconds too long to get the tank filled with methanol when he pitted for the final time on lap 75.

De Ferran had to make one more quick stop for a splash of fuel on lap 89 and raced back onto the track just ahead of Moreno, pretty much sealing the fifth victory of his career.

Despite having to negotiate heavy track over the last few laps, de Ferran beat Moreno by 2.625 seconds -- about 20 car-lengths.

''Roger called a fantastic race,'' de Ferran said. ''In the beginning of the race I had quite a bit of oversteer in the car, so I kind of took it easy, trying to save fuel and the tires. Then they made a change in the first stop; the car became better. And then on the second stop, the car was just fantastic.''

The 32-year-old Brazilian added that Penske made the final difference when he told the driver what fuel setting to use midway through the race.

''When Roger told me the mixture -- I won't tell you which one it is -- I knew what I had to do. I put my head down and went as fast as I could,'' he said.

Christian Fittipaldi wound up third, followed by Michael Andretti, Cristiano da Matta and Kenny Brack.

Castroveves, who developed gearbox problems late in the race, also ran out of fuel as he neared the finish line, falling from fourth to seventh, just ahead of Dario Franchitti.

The only incident of the afternoon took place on the first turn of the first lap when Brack, a CART rookie, clipped the rear of Franchitti's car and ignited a melee involving defending series champion Juan Montoya, Jimmy Vasser, Max Papis, Adrian Fernandez and Paul Tracy.

The accident knocked Papis out of the race, caused damage that soon took Vasser out and left Franchitti, who stalled his car and then got a stop-and-go penalty for short-cutting the circuit, out of contention.

Tracy failed to finish the race and failed to score points for the third straight race. That knocked him out of the series lead as Moreno moved one point ahead of de Ferran, 68-67, at the top of the standings after eight of 20 races.

Montoya, who won seven races last year, had an engine failure Sunday and still has only one victory this season.

''It's a shame because the championship is slipping away,'' the Colombian driver said. ''We didn't have the fastest car today, but we still could have gained some points. We need to really focus and gain some points in Cleveland next week.''



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