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Tuesday, February 19

Robby Gordon
Gordon excited for a run at The Rock
By Robby Gordon
Special to

Robby Gordon
I'm sure I'm not the only driver to say this but I'm really glad we got Daytona out of the way and are ready to head to tracks where pushing the gas pedal makes a difference in how the car performs. Daytona is an amazing track and the Daytona 500 is a legendary race, but it's also a nerve-wracking one for the drivers and teams.

But we did get the season off to a good start for the No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet team and came out of the "Great American Race" with a 13th-place finish. But I don't think our finishing spot really shows how hard the guys at Richard Childress Racing worked during the off-season.

NASCAR gave several rules concessions to the Fords and Dodges and they ended up with a huge advantage over the Chevrolets. Those guys were much faster than us by the time the week was over, although we busted our tails in the shop during the off-season. I was a little frustrated because it was obvious at the beginning of the week how hard the Chevrolet teams worked during the winter to build good cars and NASCAR ended up just handing rules changes to the other manufacturers. If you complain hard enough, I guess you get what you want.

But the No. 31 Chevrolet was still a good car. When the race started, it was pretty good and we worked our way to fifth by lap 10. But the more laps we put on the board, the tighter the car got. I radioed my crew chief, Gil Martin, what the Cingular Wireless Chevy was doing and he said a lot of the other drivers were having the same problem. The guys made some chassis adjustments when I pitted and they helped for a little while, but I still had the same problem after a few laps in the next run.

But I quit complaining about the tight-handling condition a little while later because it actually came in pretty handy. I was fortunate the Cingular Wireless Chevrolet was pushing and I had to back off a bit when my teammate Kevin Harvick's wreck happened.

I saw it coming and I brought the Cingular car off the banking and started driving it through the grass. That grass looks smooth but it's pretty bumpy and has lots of dips -- it kind of reminded me of my off-road racing adventures. At 100 mph through the grass, the impact bottomed the car out and wrinkled the left-front fender and the front valance. But I was one of the lucky ones, because a ton of cars were involved in that wreck and they didn't make it back into the race.

The team worked hard on the car and did a good job of not losing a lap during the pit stops. They pulled on the fenders and replaced the front valance and slapped on a lot of tape to get the front end of the car closer to the way it was before my little trip. But aerodynamics are very important at Daytona and we never seemed to be as good after that. The front end of these cars is so important and when you ding them up, they lose downforce and create more drag. We were already fighting a tight car and that incident only seemed to make it worse.

The Cingular Wireless Chevrolet's handling problem finally got the best of me with about 10 laps remaining in the race. I was trying to hold Rusty Wallace away from me on the high line when his car took the air off mine. When that happened, he went around me and the Cingular car just got pulled around and spun out. I think it was just the combination of him taking the air off my car and me having to steer so hard that caused my car to get loose and jump out on me.

But the guys recovered as fast as I did and got me some fresh tires and a little repair work without losing a lap. I got right back up there at the end of the race and pushed the Cingular Wireless Chevrolet as hard as it could go in the banged-up condition it was in. We crossed the finish line in the 13th position.

Looking back at it, if I had been a little more patient with Rusty and not spun out, we could have easily had a top-10 finish or maybe had an opportunity to win. We were right there with Ward Burton and Elliott Sadler and those guys who finished in the top-five during the entire race. I'm a little frustrated with myself because I know that since we ran with them the whole day, it could have been the Cingular team in Victory Lane instead of Ward's team. But I'm happy we scored some points and are 13th in the standings to kick off the season.

Now we completely change course from wide-open, 200 mph racing and head to Rockingham, N.C. My teammate Jeff Green went to Rockingham a few weeks ago and tested and I'm hoping his notes will help the Cingular Wireless team this weekend. I've never had great races at Rockingham, but I've always qualified decently.

The last race there was the first time I qualified outside the top 25, but it was my first race with Gil and we struggled a bit. But we've got a different car and set-up this time and we're looking forward to our best effort ever at North Carolina Speedway. Gil is a good crew chief and knows what type of car to take to what track and I have a ton of confidence in him.

Rockingham is a track where the tires go away after about 10 laps and we have to show a lot of patience and save our car as much as possible. If we have the car to win, we'll go for it when the time comes.

We're testing Atlanta on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. I really struggled the last two times I went to Atlanta and the No. 31 team missed the race there last November because we weren't high enough in the points to get a provisional before some of the other guys did. Our general manager, Bobby Hutchens, and the whole team want to make sure we are competitive the next time we go to Atlanta, especially because it's the home base for Cingular Wireless. We're going to Atlanta this week to get the most we can out of the car there and really work on the qualifying package so we're ready to go in March.

Yes, we are definitely busy in the Cingular Wireless camp right now. But as I've told anyone and everyone who will listen to me, this is the job I've always wanted. I'm living my dream driving for Richard Childress Racing and I'm savoring every minute of it.

Robby Gordon drives the No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. He will be providing a diary to throughout the Winston Cup season.

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