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MOTOR RACING NOTES

Gordon Can Match Earnhardt Feat at Talladega

April 30, 2006|From the Associated Press

Jeff Gordon always had a lot of respect for Dale Earnhardt, and he was particularly admiring of The Intimidator's uncanny ability on NASCAR's restrictor-plate tracks.

Earnhardt won 10 plate races at Daytona and Talladega in NASCAR's top series, and it often seemed that, with the cars slowed by the horsepower-sapping plates and running in huge packs, two- and three-wide, Earnhardt could find the holes and use the turbulent air better than anyone.

In his last race on the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway oval, in October 2000, Earnhardt charged from 18th place to a victory in the last five laps. It was the last of his 76 career wins.

After Earnhardt's death in a crash during the 2001 Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his then-teammate Michael Waltrip took up where the seven-time champion left off, dominating at the plate tracks for the next few years. DEI has won six of the last nine races at Talladega -- five by Earnhardt Jr.

But Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports team apparently have caught up with Dale Earnhardt Inc. on the big tracks, with Gordon winning four of the last eight plate races -- including the last two spring events at Talladega -- and teammate Jimmie Johnson winning this year's Daytona 500.

A victory by Gordon in today's Aaron's 499 at Talladega would match the elder Earnhardt's plate race total, a number not lost on the four-time Cup champion.

"We were getting beat by the DEI cars pretty regularly, so we focused on improving our restrictor-plate program," said Gordon, who has four wins, 11 top fives and 14 top 10s in 26 starts at Talladega.

As for the elder Earnhardt, Gordon said, "Senior was the man when it came to these type of races. I got schooled by him many times in the draft, but so did a lot of drivers. Some of the moves he made were incredible.

"While it was frustrating at times, I learned a lot just by watching him."

If recent history has anything to do with it, Gordon will win today.

In addition to his success at Talladega, Gordon has not gone later than the ninth race of the season without a victory since 2002, when it took him until the 24th race of the season to score that first win.

Last year, Gordon won three of the first nine, including the Aaron's 499. In 2004, his first victory of the season came at Talladega in the ninth race of the year. In 2003, Gordon's first win was also in the ninth race, but it was on the half-mile oval at Martinsville that season.

A victory today would make Gordon the first driver to win an event three straight times at Talladega since Hall of Famer David Pearson did it each spring from 1972 to 1974.

"David Pearson is one of the true legends of our sport, and it's an honor just to be mentioned with him," said Gordon, who has four of his 73 career Cup victories at Talladega. "It's a tribute to the consistency of our restrictor-plate program at Hendrick Motorsports. The effort has been incredible and just continues to improve with each race."

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Rookie Clint Bowyer is off to a solid start in Nextel Cup and is also having a strong year in the Busch Series.

He is 12th in the Cup standings and second in Busch and has been particularly good the past three weeks, since veteran Busch Series driver Tim Fedewa joined Richard Childress Racing as Bowyer's spotter for both series.

Since joining the team at Texas Motor Speedway, Fedewa has contributed to a Busch Series runner-up finish two weeks ago at Nashville and Bowyer's first top-five finish in Cup on April 22 in Phoenix.

"It's pretty exciting to be part of a championship organization like RCR," Fedewa said. "Up until just a few weeks ago, I was spotting some Busch races on Saturdays, but I knew I wanted to work on Sundays, too."

Fedewa was recruited by Mike Dillon, RCR's director of team operations and Childress' son-in-law.

"He asked me if I would consider spotting for Clint on both days," Fedewa said. "It was too good of an offer to turn down. We've got a couple races under our belts already, and it seems to be working out pretty well."

Dillon said Fedewa's racing experience, which includes 333 Busch starts and four wins, gives him a big advantage in spotting for another driver.

"Tim is very calm and does a great job," Dillon said. "A calm and informed voice on the radio goes a long way toward keeping the driver composed in the car."

*

With the American car industry dealing with serious financial problems these days and Toyota set to join the Cup series next year, it was inevitable that rumors would pop up about at least one of the U.S. Big Three leaving NASCAR.

John Fernandez, Dodge's director of racing operations, said, "I've heard the rumor, but obviously we're not involved in it.

"I haven't heard anything from General Motors or Ford that indicates they're in any jeopardy. Obviously, their total companies right now are having a tough time in the marketplace, but that's happened before and it'll happen again, I'm sure. As far as I know, GM and Ford are still committed to NASCAR and committed to racing in the Cup Series."

Asked about parent company DaimlerChrysler's future commitment to NASCAR, Fernandez said Dodge appears to be in it for the long haul.

"I think we still believe it's the right place to be to show off the image we're trying to project for the Dodge brand performance, the capableness of our cars," he said. "Quite frankly, we're just getting in position now to win some races and show some strength with our program.

"Our teams are starting to mature to the point where, hopefully, we can take a run at [the championship] this year."

*

No driver has won from the pole at Talladega in the last 15 races. The last was Bobby Labonte in the 1998 DieHard 500.

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