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Gordon Wants to Keep Chase Exclusive

September 12, 2004|From Associated Press

Jeff Gordon is guaranteed a spot in NASCAR's new 10-race championship playoff. The only question for the four-time series champion now is how many drivers he will have to battle for another title.

After Saturday night's Chevy Rock and Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway, only the top 10 drivers in the standings and any others within 400 points of the leader will be eligible to race for the championship over the final 10 events of the season.

Gordon goes into the Richmond race trailing Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, the series leader, by 50 points and leading 11th-place Jamie McMurray by 399. Johnson has finished 14th or worse in four of the last five races and another slip could open the door for more than 10 drivers to make the new championship format.

But not if Gordon has any say in it.

"I'm sure the fans would love to see that," Gordon said. "As a competitor, though, the fewer teams we have to battle for the championship the better.

"This format is great for the fans. I'd love to be a spectator at the race or watching it on TV to see it all unfold. But we're not going to worry about what those teams are doing. This No. 24 team will focus on what we can control, and that's getting the best possible finish and doing our best to make sure only 10 teams advance."

With a 156-point swing in one race possible -- 190 for first and leading the most laps versus 34 for finishing last -- Gordon could wind up with the points lead or fall as low as fourth.

Even if he falls to fourth, Gordon would trail the leader by only 15 points when NASCAR resets the points for the final 10 races. All the drivers in the championship battle will be separated in increments of five points heading to the race next week in New Hampshire.

"We had a good run here in the spring (finished sixth), but we were just a little bit off all night," said Gordon, who has two Richmond wins among his career total of 69.

"I want the spotlight to be on us as we enter those final 10 races," Gordon said. "I want the other teams to worry about us. If they're concerned with what we're doing, they won't be focused on themselves."

WHAT A START: Until last month, Carl Edwards was content racing a truck and dreaming about the day he would make it to the Nextel Cup series.

Now, heading into Richmond, Edwards is a veteran off three Cup races and already has two top 10 finishes, including sixth last Sunday at California Speedway.

His 10th-place finish in his debut at Michigan made him one of only five active Cup drivers to finish in the top 10 in their first starts.

The 25-year-old Edwards, who replaced veteran Jeff Burton in the No. 99 Ford after the latter left Roush Racing for Richard Childress Racing, is somewhat stunned to find himself in this situation.

"I'm very fortunate to be in the ride that I'm in," Edwards said. "Racing in the Cup series is just a different intensity level. Everyone races a lot harder.

"At Michigan I raced around 20th most of the day and I raced harder for 20th than I have for most wins ever in my life. It was a lot of fun, though. To finish 10th in our first outing was a victory for the entire No. 99 team."

Following his debut, Edwards ran all three NASCAR events at Bristol, winning the truck race, finishing 19th in the Busch Series event and running in the top 15 in the Cup race before getting caught up in an accident that relegated him to 33rd.

Then, at California, an early flat tire dropped him to 38th before he rebounded to sixth.

"I had a blast." Edwards said "We had a great race car and I just drove, drove, drove."

RICHMOND JINX?: It's a good thing Ryan Pemberton doesn't believe in jinxes.

Heading to Richmond for Saturday night's race, the crew chief on his No. 01 car has had three different drivers wreck a total of four times on the .75-mile oval the last three times he visited the track.

One of them, Jerry Nadeau, sustained serious head injuries that have kept him out of racing since the accident.

But Pemberton doesn't consider Richmond a bad place to race. In fact, he said he was looking forward to going back to Richmond with driver Joe Virginia.

"What makes me feel positive about Richmond is that in the past three races we have run well there," Pemberton said. "The breaks definitely went against us, and I guess someone could say that we're jinxed there, but I'm not buying any of that.

"What happened to us is just part of racing, nothing more and nothing less. I believe that if we continue to have good cars, the tide will eventually turn in our favor."

Nadeau's crash came in May 2003, with Mike Skinner following him into the car and winning the pole, but crashing twice that weekend.

In this year's spring race, Joe Nemechek was near the front at the midway point when he tangled with Jamie McMurray, sending both cars into the wall. Nemechek wound up 36th.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Seven of the 10 races at Richmond between 1990 and 1995 were won by the driver that led the most laps. In the next 17 races -- before Saturday night -- the winner has also led the most laps only four times -- Jeff Burton (September 1998), Tony Stewart (September 2000), Joe Nemechek (May 2003) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (May 2004).

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