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Wednesday, March 6
Gordon happy with team's improvement
By Robby Gordon
Special to ESPN.com
Friday started out pretty well for the No. 31 team. Qualifying well is really important for us right now because NASCAR is still basing provisional starting positions off of the point standings we had at the end of last season, when the No. 31 team was 29th. Obviously, we always want to qualify well, but it's vital for the next couple of weeks until the points are re-configured based on this season and not last.
A lot of things happen when you show up at a track and you know you have to qualify well, so I was a little conservative with the Cingular Wireless Chevrolet during my lap Friday. We'd been running really good lately and I was just a little tiny bit apprehensive going into Turn 1 on the first lap. We decided to scuff our tires before qualifying, which is something we didn't do during practice. Maybe we should have qualified on sticker tires. You can always second-guess yourself, though. But we did qualify 12th, which was pretty good for a Chevrolet at a downforce track like Las Vegas.
We took the green flag Sunday and started working our way to the front of the field. We got into the top six and stayed there most of the first 62 laps. But then we brought the Cingular Wireless Chevrolet down pit road for routine service and that's when our bad luck came into play and basically ended any chance of a strong performance.
As I steered onto pit lane for a green-flag stop, the caution came out. My crew chief Gil Martin radioed me to continue along the pit lane without stopping, which kept us on the lead lap, although we lost more than 20 spots on the track. It got even worse on the restart on lap 66 when I bumped into the rear bumper of the car right in front of me, knocking a pretty big hole in the left-front fender of the Cingular Wireless Chevy.
The guys did a great job fixing the damage on the nose but the damage on the track was already done. The aerodynamics on the car suffered terribly and I pretty much had to just hang onto the car the rest of the race and try to stay out of trouble. These cars are so aero-sensitive nowadays that any slight damage, let alone a gaping hole in the sheet metal, will greatly affect the car's handling.
Even if we didn't have that problem with the damaged fender, the Cingular Wireless Chevrolet was already hurting in the downforce department. Chevrolets were at a disadvantage at Las Vegas and will again be at a disadvantage this weekend at Atlanta because downforce is so important at both of those tracks. Richard Childress Racing and the other Chevy teams did an awesome job during the off-season, but the Fords and Dodges were handed a big break at Daytona. They should have had to take those spoilers to Rockingham and Las Vegas -- I think it would have evened up the field a little more.
Man, the Fords and Dodges were really strong at Las Vegas and there wasn't much we could do about it. We have worked really hard with our Chevrolet and all of RCR has done a really good job. We'll see what happens as we get a little farther into the season. Maybe there will be some changes amongst the manufacturers.
But we're going to keep going and doing the best we can every week and hopefully NASCAR will recognize we aren't on a level playing field with the other guys. We're heading to Atlanta this week and it's a huge race for the Cingular Wireless team because it's Cingular's hometown. We've put a lot of work into this race and are hoping for some good results.
I've really struggled at Atlanta ever since they re-configured the track a few years ago. I sat on the pole at Atlanta the first two times I raced there -- in the 1990 ARCA race and 1997 Winston Cup race. But it takes a completely different line to get around the track now than it did back when I won the pole. So, the Cingular Wireless team tested at Atlanta a couple of weeks ago and really picked up some speed.
With Kevin Harvick's help, we were able to pick up quite a bit of time on our laps. That's where a multi-car team really helps each individual part. I have a lot more confidence after that test and I'm actually looking forward to going back to Atlanta. With Kevin winning at Atlanta one year ago and us testing there, I think the Cingular Wireless team will be strong.
Getting around Atlanta is an art in itself because there are some pretty big bumps on the track. If I drive into Turn 1 and drive the normal line, I'll ride over some pretty large bumps. Either the car has to work really well or we have to compensate for that in order to get through the bumps. We did a little of both when we tested. The sooner you can get back in the gas coming off Turn 2, the quicker your lap is going to be. The quicker lap is on the bottom of the track for qualifying, but that will completely change in the race. In the race after the tires go away, guys will be running really high on the track.
When you go down the backstretch and off into Turn 3, it looks completely different than Turn 1. From a driver's point of view, it doesn't seem like Turn 3 is banked as much as Turn 1. Plus, there aren't any real bumps getting into Turn 3, although there are some halfway between Turns 3 and 4. The track seems like it flattens out more coming off of Turns 3 and 4 than it does exiting Turns 1 and 2.
I'm really pleased with the performance of the team the first three races of the year. I haven't yet had a car that wasn't capable of running in the top 10. When we weren't very good in Happy Hour last week at Las Vegas, the team was able to respond to what I needed and make adjustments to give me a good car.
The most important thing to improving our car is communicating with the crew chief and telling him where the problem is so we can work through it to make the car better. I think we're doing a great job of getting that part down -- I just need to learn to be a bit more patient on the track and we'll be running up front a lot more.
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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