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MOTOR RACING

Hired Specialists Come to a Fork in the Road

August 10, 2003|From Associated Press

Jimmy Spencer has a challenge for the road racing specialists hired to drive today at Watkins Glen International: "Come to Bristol."

Of the 47 entries in the Sirius at the Glen, eight are the so-called "Hired Guns," drivers signed for just that race because of their expertise on road courses.

"When I think of road course drivers, I think of wine-and-cheese people," Spencer said. "But, when I think of drivers who race at Bristol and Richmond and Daytona, I think of meat and potatoes.

"I've got a lot of respect for your Tony Stewarts and your Jeff Gordons and your Kevin Harvicks, because they can do it all. They can race the ovals, the road courses, the dirt tracks, the off-road courses, mud holes, gravel pits, whatever you want, and still kick everybody's butts. I like that."

Spencer said he'd like to invite the road racers to race on Bristol International Raceway's fast, treacherous half-mile oval later this month "and we'll see what kind of men they are."

He said nobody can blame team owners for hiring road course specialists because car owner points are critical when it comes to provisional starting positions.

"At the same time, I like those team owners who stick by their drivers through the good and the bad," Spencer said.

"It could've been easy for (Ultra Motorsports owner) Jimmy Smith to say, 'You know what, Spencer doesn't like road courses too much, and we finished 36th at Sonoma, and it would be better to hire someone to drive this Watkins Glen race.' But he didn't do that, and I think it's because he knows it's very important for a driver to know he has the backing of his team."

Spencer doesn't dispute that the road racers are really good at what they do.

"I drove behind Boris Said and Ron Fellows a few weeks ago during practice at Infineon, and they are extremely good. Very smooth off the corners, very consistent and very fast.

"I wanted to learn something by watching where they accelerate and brake. Those guys are really good race car drivers."

Said won the pole and finished sixth in the June race on the Infineon Raceway road course in Sonoma, Calif., while Fellows was seventh.

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Four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon is the all-time leader in road course victories with seven, but he hasn't won on a road circuit since the Watkins Glen race in August 2001.

That's why Gordon's No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team used one of its precious tests -- each team is only allowed seven tests during the season -- last week at Watkins Glen International.

"A lot of teams have stepped up their road course programs," Gordon said. "We didn't run as well as we would have liked here last year, so that is why we decided to use one of our tests. We learned a lot and hopefully it will show in our results Sunday."

Gordon has seven top-10 finishes, including four wins in 10 races at The Glen.

During one stretch, Gordon won a series-record six straight road course races and goes into Sunday's race with seven wins in 20 starts on the courses with left and right turns.

Three other drivers have won three consecutive road course races: David Pearson (1976-77), Tim Richmond (1986-87) and Rusty Wallace (1987-88). Of those three, only Wallace remains active.

Former series champion Wallace has nine top 10 finishes, including two wins, in 17 races at Watkins Glen, but has finished 17th or worse in his last three races there.

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