Gordon recovers to gain 17th spot

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   Tony Stewart's homecoming weekend started off with the pole position at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and rookie Ryan Newman posted a fifth best time, but three-time Brickyard 400 champion Jeff Gordon was happy just to have a solid start after having to scrap his second qualifying lap.
   "Something happened to the rear-end gear when I crossed the start/finish line," remarked Gordon about his 17th-place qualifying run. "You could hear it. It just shut completely off. Something just snapped.
   "I probably wasn't going to make a second lap anyway. We hadn't run close to what those other guys were running. Just the way it was handling, I didn't think we would gain anything on a second lap. That doesn't mean I won't have a strong car in the race. It has a good feel through the corners and I'm real happy with that."
   Other news coming out of Indy was a deal in the works where Gordon will get behind the wheel of Juan Montoya's Formula One car and Montoya will drive Gordon's Winston Cup car. The move would have the two only swapping rides for a day.
   Back to Stewart, today will be his second time starting an Indianapolis race from the number one position. Stewart started the 1996 Indianapolis 500 in the pole slot in 1996 after pole sitter Scott Brayton suffered fatal injuries in a practice crash.
   "We've struggled all year, which is no secret," said Stewart. "But, to go out and do what we did is what the Home Depot team needed. It was just a matter of knowing how hard you could go. I was either going to have a really good lap or I was going to have a really bad lap because I was going to have to check up."
   Ricky Rudd addressed member of the media on Friday at the speedway and confirmed rumors that his tenure in the No. 28 Ford was soon to end. "The bottom line is that my obligation with Robert Yates race team - my contract was going to be ending at the end of this year," said Rudd. "So, technically, Robert didn't owe me anything.
   "It would have been nice to have had a clear-cut understanding of what his intentions were, but I'm hearing a series of half-truths from Robert. I think we know that Robert or some family member probably signed Elliott Sadler as far back as May. I didn't understand until about a week ago, it was going to be a two-team effort."
   Rudd saw that as a sign of being shown the door. "My contract is ending and it's not going to be renewed at Yates Racing," stated Rudd. "As far as any obligations, Robert didn't owe my anything other than why he's breaking up a team that's been a success on the track. I felt like at least an off-the-record explanation of why he is destroying the team.
   "It doesn't make sense to me, but it's out of my control. I've gotten tired of reading all this distractionary bull that's been said about this team. All Robert has to do is keep his mouth shut and let us go out there and run this race team the rest of the year and try to win a championship."
   Rudd skated around rumors he might be going to either Chip Ganassi as a third driver or to a team co-owned by Andy Petree and Jerry Jones citing legal issues still need to be resolved.
   On the subject of a possible retirement, Rudd issued the following. "When you sort through all the teams out there, all have a potential for success. The trouble is that I have to come out with a team that can come out of the box right away. I don't have three years. If I can build a team that can be competitive for a championship, I will seriously look at that.
   "If it's going to be a two or three year build up process, I will then step aside and give it to someone else. It's sort of like the situation we've got going now with where I'm at."
   Bill Elliott's blistering summer streak continued on Saturday. Elliott added a front row start in the Brickyard 400 to a win and two poles he recorded over the last two weekends.
   It's been quite a revival for Elliott, who at 46 years old is the oldest full-time competitor among the NASCAR drivers. "I'm proud of my guys and what they have done," said Elliott. "It all comes back to I wasn't cut out to owning a race team trying to deal with the sponsors and employees and all the stuff you deal with. (Car owner) Ray (Evernham) deals with all that.
   "Now, I can get back to concentrating on the car and making it run fast. The team has come together real well. It's been a lot of fun the last couple of months."
   The signs were good for new IROC champ Kevin Harvick even before Saturday's race started. The Bakersfield, Calif. driver who usually pilots the No. 29 Goodwrench Chevrolet on the Winston Cup circuit, had his IROC car stored in garage stall No. 29 in Gasoline Alley.
   That same luck didn't work for Stewart. Stewart, second in IROC points coming into the day, sported an orange car similar in color to his Cup car for the IROC finale. A mechanical problem dropped Stewart to 10th place in the final rundown between champion drivers from different racing disciplines.