Gordon in search of sixth BMS win

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   Four straight times Jeff Gordon won the Food City 500 from 1995-98. Two years ago, he added a first win in the August night race to round out a full handful of victories at Bristol Motor Speedway.
   An outside pole run on Friday has the four-time NASCAR champion optimistic starting today's Nextel Cup Series race that a sixth BMS could be in the cards.
  When asked why he's been able to run so well on the high-banked short track Gordon answered, "I wish I could put my finger on it. I get excited about coming here. It's a great track, a fast track. It reminds of growing up racing high-banked tracks in Indiana. I have no idea if that's it or if the guys just prepare great race cars for me."
   With all his previous BMS success, Gordon knows a premium has to be put on starting near the front of the field. The driver also touted he is 100 percent recovered from a head-on crash with the car of Andy Hillenburg last week at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
   "You have to put an emphasis on qualifying," said Gordon. "A good starting position means so much here. It makes for a better result on Sunday, but it doesn't guarantee anything."
   Gordon's last win at BMS came in controversial fashion when he bumped past rival Rusty Wallace with two laps to go. That ended a season-long winless streak for Gordon, while Wallace is yet to win in over the last 100 races.
   "I went through 31 (races) and I thought it was the end of the world," said Gordon. "I think you go through stages where you reach a certain point you have to start making things happen. Sometimes you are getting a little too anxious.
   "You get to a point where you feel you are starting to understand it. Rusty is a heck of a fighter and he understands how competitive it is. He just needs to stick with it and results will happen on the track."
   In his formative years in stock car racing's premier division, Gordon worked with crew chief Ray Evernham. Now Gordon finds himself often compared to Evernham's latest protégé, Kasey Kahne.
   "I like what Kasey is doing out there," said Gordon, whose 64 race wins leads all active drivers. "It's a compliment for someone to compare the two of us. He is using his head. If you want to compare him to me go ahead. I don't know Kasey that well, but he seems like a nice guy. I've seen what he's done on the track."
   Gordon does say that it's not apples to apples when now comparing Kahne's success in the No. 9 Dodge to his rookie year in the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet.
   "Times have changed and the sport has changed since I came into it," Gordon explained. "There's a lot of expectations on him. Back when I was a rookie, they didn't expect rookies to win races.
   "He's working with a great guy with Ray and they are putting great cars and a great time behind him. That I can relate to. He's done a much better job than I did as a rookie. I knocked the back end off the car for about ten weeks until I learned how to go all the way to the finish. Then I started seeing the results he is already seeing."
   The subject often comes up of Gordon's role as a co-owner on the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet that teammate Jimmie Johnson drives. Much has been made of Johnson's NASCAR success despite a background that was more into off-road racing. Gordon noticed Johnson's car control when racing against him in the Busch Series and decided he was the right person for his team.
   "The next time I'm looking for a driver I might need to go back to the Busch Series or go back and drive a sprint car," said Gordon about the best method of choosing a driver. "When you race against them, you get a better feel. It's hard to tell on TV how good the car is versus how good the driver is. When I raced with Jimmie, I recognized he was getting a lot more out of that car than the car was capable of.
   "That impressed me that he fought all the way until the checkered flag was waving. He pushed the car to and over the limits. He had a lot of car control and then when we talked to him, he was cool and calm. That's something that carries over to the driving style."
   Last season Gordon made headlines swapping rides with Juan Montoya at Indianapolis, taking some laps in a Formula One car. The year before that Gordon teamed with Johnson leading Team USA to a win in the Nation's Cup
   Race of Champions against drivers from all disciplines. The logical question is whether Gordon is ready to try running one of Johnson's off-road trucks next.
   "Jimmie and I both did the Race of Champions together and that was a lot of fun," said Gordon, who has shown the ability to adapt to a variety of racing machines. "I enjoyed being back on dirt and being in a four-wheel drive car. I wouldn't mind taking a drive in the desert. I just don't want to do it for 1000 miles. I only want to do it for about five miles."
   His focus remains chasing a fifth Cup Series title with the current emphasis on today's race at Bristol. A new tire combination brought to the speedway by Goodyear saw qualifying speeds overall higher than ever before.
   "The track is definitely faster," said Gordon after barely missing the pole-winning time of Ryan Newman. "The tires have a lot of grip. Anywhere that we go tires make a big difference. It makes qualifying faster and makes the teams and drivers work harder."