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Fantasy Racing 2002.
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Tuesday, February 26
Late incident hurt finishing position
By Robby Gordon
Special to ESPN.com
I had the No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet in the eighth position at the end of the Subway 400 when another car, a lapped car at that, pushed down on my car and sent me spinning. My eighth-place finish quickly turned into a 24th-place disappointment. The team had done an awesome job all week and was pumped up during the race. I guess that's why everyone says "that's racing."
The week at Rockingham started out pretty well for the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team. The Cingular Wireless Chevrolet was a little tight when Friday morning's practice got underway, so the guys worked on loosening it up a bit for me. We tried some different shocks and setups and finally were pretty happy with the car. Qualifying that afternoon went much the same way -- the car got a little tight but the lap was good enough to get us a 16th-starting position.
We were awesome in Saturday's Happy Hour practice. We worked on the car's handling on long runs, which we see a lot at Rockingham. The Cingular Wireless Chevrolet was good and had good grip even on old tires. We posted the second-fastest lap of the entire final session and were pretty excited about Sunday's race.
Things looked good for us when the 393-lap race got underway Sunday afternoon. The car was really strong, but just a little tight in the middle of the corners, making the nose of the car push up the track. For a driver, it's really hard to steer the car when it gets like that. So, I had to back off in the gas a little going into the corners until I could make a pit stop and get some chassis adjustments. We were in 10th by lap 59 and just kept cruising from there.
We kept the Cingular Wireless Chevy in the top-15 until a big accident on lap 157 gave the car a hint of front-end damage. The wreck broke out in front of me and my spotter Tim Overby did a great job of coaching me around the track to avoid the pileup. But the smoke was so thick over the track that neither Tim nor I could see when Jimmy Spencer stopped in front me and I ended up slightly rear-ending him. We lost several spots during that mess and dropped to 19th before pitting for fresh rubber and quick fender repairs.
The car was never quite as strong after that incident, but we kept it in the top-12 during the next 100 laps and were back in the top-10 by lap 288. But that's where my good news ends. I was running eighth with six laps to go when a rookie in a lapped car raced me a little too hard and came down on me on the track, sending me spinning into the inside retaining wall.
We had a flat tire and moderate sheet metal damage, but the worst part was that we went one lap down to the leaders because I had to get the car out of the wall and turned back around. If NASCAR had thrown the caution flag when I spun, like they normally do, we wouldn't have lost that lap. But they finally decided to display the yellow flag the next lap and we ducked onto pit road for four fresh tires and headed back onto the track. The race ended under caution and I finished 24th.
At first, I was furious with the other driver for taking me out. That was definitely his fault, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I should have been a little more patient and just settled for eighth. If I had just settled in behind the lapped car, I probably would have been OK and would have driven the Cingular Wireless Chevrolet home to an eighth-place finish. I should have just stayed out of his way. But he didn't have to wreck me. The team lost very important points and we're now 17th when we could have been about seventh.
But we're going to Las Vegas this week hoping to run just as well as we did last week at Rockingham. The team got two days of testing in at Las Vegas last month and we learned a lot about our car. We're taking the same car we won the Loudon, N.H., race with last year and it was awesome there. Loudon is a fairly flat track, kind of like Las Vegas and Phoenix, where the No. 31 team got a top-10 finish last season. Everyone said I'd win my first race on a road course and I got it at Loudon. I'm learning how to negotiate flatter tracks better with each race and we're hoping we can take a lot of the notes we compiled at the Vegas test and put them to good use this weekend.
I always look forward to the Las Vegas race because I go out West early in the week to visit my family and friends in California. I don't get to see them very often and I take every opportunity I can get. I'll probably bring a lot of them to the race this weekend and enjoy visiting with them after the garage closes. We may even gamble a little bit. I'm pretty carefree by nature and I enjoy playing a bit in the casinos, and I don't get really stressed out when I lose some money like a lot of people do. It's not the end of the world and we shouldn't take it too seriously. That's kind of my viewpoint on the arguments and attitudes that drivers get with each other. Come on, we race cars for a living. We should lighten up a bit and not take ourselves so seriously. It's just a bunch of guys driving cars and doing what they love for a living.
I'm really proud of these Cingular guys and think that if we are all patient and keep working hard, our results will show for themselves. But I hope that's sooner than later because we've got to get a good jump on the points race early in the season.
Robby Gordon drives the No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. He will be providing a diary to ESPN.com throughout the Winston Cup season.Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories
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