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SPORTS WEEKEND | NOTES

Gordon Just Can't Wait to Get Back Up to Racing Speed

June 20, 1997|SHAV GLICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FONTANA — Robby Gordon, whose Winston Cup career was put on hold when he suffered severe burns to his thigh during the Indianapolis 500, is returning to the races this weekend.

"I missed three races, and that's too many," Gordon said after practicing Thursday in Felix Sabates' Chevrolet when the California Speedway opened for testing for Sunday's inaugural California 500. "I'm going to race Sunday, and I'm going to run the IROC on Saturday.

"I wanted to run last week [at Michigan], but if they had given me a drug test, I don't think I would have gotten through it. I've been on some stiff medication. It takes seven days to get it out of your system, so I stopped taking it last week."

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All the talk about how racing on the new California Speedway track will be the same as running at Michigan Speedway apparently isn't ringing true.

"This track is definitely different from Michigan, in good ways," said Jeff Gordon, the Winston Cup points leader and winner of six races this season. "It's wide and there's a lot of room out there. We're running right on the bottom here, where at Michigan we run right in the middle.

Gordon, no relation to Robby, had the fastest lap of the second practice session, 183.369 mph, and did not drive in the final session during which Dale Jarrett posted the day's fastest lap, 183.416.

Ernie Irvan, who won the Michigan race, said, "The track's not quite as [similar] as we might like to Michigan. Coming off Michigan with a win, is it really good to come here where a lot of people think the racetrack's the same as Michigan? That's not going to carry a whole lot of weight. Right now, we've got to prove ourselves, and prove to ourselves that we can do the job here too."

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Les Richter, former NFL Hall of Fame linebacker with the Rams and former Riverside International Raceway president, will have multiple duties this weekend. He is chairman of IROC, executive vice president of California Speedway and will serve as grand marshal for Sunday's race.

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One-lap qualifying for Winston Cup cars will take place at 3 p.m. today, with the first 25 positions in Sunday's California 500 at stake. The remainder of the field will qualify Saturday at 11 a.m.

Winston West cars, which will run in the Auto Club 200 on Saturday, will qualify today at noon. David Green and Ken Schrader, two Winston Cup regulars, plan to run both races, and Thursday they had the fastest practice laps.

Green ran 178.183 and Schrader, 178.068. Butch Gilliland, the points leader, was the fastest West Coast driver at 174.537. Gilliland's son, David, also made an appearance and ran 162.929.

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