ATLANTA -- Drivers have screamed for years the racing schedule for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series is too long. At least one, newly-crowned champion Jeff Gordon, is doing something about it.
Saying he already has too many commitments on and off the track, Gordon rejected his invitation to participate in the International Race of Champions on Tuesday.
The series is a four-event all-star that features the top drivers from several forms of motorsports, including stock cars, sports cars and open-wheel racers. The Winston Cup Series champion automatically has participated in the series since it started in 1974.
''It's definitely an honor to be recognized by IROC and compete against an elite group of drivers,'' Gordon said. ''I'll never forget the first invitation I received from IROC in 1995. It was very exciting.''
Gordon's decision was prompted by his busy schedule, and it was affirmed by his Winston Cup car owner, Rick Hendrick.
''Due to the demands of my time with the number of races on the NASCAR Winston Cup schedule and commitments to my sponsors, in addition to my increased involvement with the No. 24 and the No. 48 teams, I have to decline the invitation.''
Gordon owns a piece of a new Hendrick Motorsports team with rookie driver Jimmie Johnson and car No. 48.
The Winston Cup season starts in 2002 with the Budweiser Shootout all-star race at the Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 9 and it doesn't end until the season-finale at Homestead, Fla., on Nov. 17. NASCAR has 36 official races and two all-star events scheduled during the 41-week season, meaning there only are three open dates. And not included in the 10-month schedule is a mandatory three-day test session at Daytona in January.
While invitations to IROC will be issued throughout December and January, the series is likely to invite the defending NASCAR Busch Series champion (Kevin Harvick), as well as the champions of CART (Gil de Ferran) and the Indy Racing League (Sam Hornish Jr.).
ON THE MEND: Driver Ricky Rudd and three of his crewmen continue to improve during the off-season.
Rudd had surgery on his back to repair a disk, while three of his crewmen continue to get better after being struck by a car on pit road at Homestead, Fla., on Nov. 11.
Bobby Burrell, who suffered head injuries, is resting at home. He has started a rehabilitation regiment that includes hand-to-eye coordination drills. He hopes to return to work at Robert Yates Racing in January.
Kevin Hall, a front tire changer, and John Bryan, a jack man, both have returned to work.
PIT STOPS: Atlanta Motor Speedway's plan to move pole qualifying for the NAPA 500 on Oct. 27 to Friday night means the raceway will go head-to-head with one of Georgia's most-sacred sports high school football. Time trials were moved to nighttime to serve as a warm-up for the 150-lap race for the NASCAR Dash Series for compact racers . . . The Daytona International Speedway is expected to announce it will name a portion of the raceway after Dale Earnhardt . . . Geoffrey Bodine has a three-race deal in 2002 with James Finch's Phoenix Racing for both races at the Daytona International Speedway and the Homestead-Miami Speedway . . . Tim Steele, a former three-time ARCA Series champion, will race in 10-12 ARCA races and five races in both the NASCAR Busch and NASCAR Winston Cup series next year. The effort will be family-owned.
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