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Tuesday, March 19

Robby Gordon
Gordon unhappy with Darlington run
By Robby Gordon
Special to

Robby Gordon
Before we got to Darlington last week, I said I didn't like the place but I was going to try to change my thinking about it. I went in with an open mind and the Cingular Wireless team got a decent start to our weekend. But when it was all said and done, I still don't like Darlington and probably won't ever like it. The track "Too Tough to Tame" was just a little tough on the No. 31 Cingular Wireless team.

Qualifying wasn't too bad for us, though. We were a little slow in practice so we made some changes right before qualifying, hoping they would improve the handling on the No. 31 Chevrolet. But that gamble didn't pay off all that much for us on the qualifying lap and we were just a little bit loose the whole way around.

We were a little tight in practice and tried to free it up to go quicker, but ended up staying about where we were in practice. Darlington changes so much. When I was out there, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, but a few cars later in qualifying, there were clouds all over the place. Cloudy conditions usually make for quicker laps and a tenth of a second is a big difference at Darlington. But we were pretty pleased with our starting spot. I didn't have a lot of experience at Darlington and we didn't test there.

When the race started Sunday, I dealt with a car that had very little grip, which at Darlington means big trouble. On lap 86, I tapped the wall between Turns 1 and 2. We were trying to stay on the lead lap and do the best job we could for Cingular Wireless. That was only minor compared to the contact I made with the wall a few laps later between Turns 3 and 4. I thought we cut down a right rear tire, but it turned out to be a broken bolt in the rear suspension. We took the Cingular Wireless Chevrolet behind the wall on lap 92 to replace the driveshaft and trailing arm, as well as make repairs to the body.

After about 45 laps, most of which took place during green-flag conditions, we returned to the track in 40th place. We stayed out for the rest of the race and picked up six spots, finishing 34th. I was extremely disappointed with that finish and pretty frustrated with myself. I know you live and learn, but we could be much higher in the points if a few laps had gone a little differently this season. But we'll work our way back up and be OK in the long run.

The NASCAR Winston Cup Series is headed to Thunder Valley this weekend for one of the most-anticipated races of the year. Beating and banging at Bristol. Surviving is the key to doing well at Bristol, just like it was at Darlington. The Cingular Wireless team can put more work and effort into the Bristol race than any other team and still end up dead last at the end. Bristol is about survival, but it's also about luck.

Robby Gordon
Robby Gordon, left, is in his first full season driving for car owner Richard Childress, right.

Too often it's about being in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time. One moment you can be leading and the next minute someone runs over you and puts you in the fence. The next thing you know, your guys are loading your car onto the hauler to go home. I've only run Bristol three times, but I've gotten run over in about every race I've been in there. I was out there minding my own business, trying like heck not to bang into anybody else, and someone ran over the back of me. Bristol doesn't seem like a very fair track, but I guess it all shakes out evenly over the years.

Bristol is a pretty rough track and the banking is very steep. When you come off pit road, you've got to be careful going up the banking. It's so sharp that you can tear up the front valance when you get up on the banking. The Cingular Wireless Chevrolet almost has to tiptoe going up the banking coming off of Turn 1 at Bristol. The biggest key to a good lap is getting back in the throttle at the right time. You think you'd have to drive it in as deep as you can, slide it in the corner and get back in the gas. But in reality, when it comes down to being quick, you have to lift off the gas a little early, get the car stuck down in the corner and get back to full throttle as soon as you can.

Most of the tracks we run on are asphalt, but Bristol is concrete. There's a big difference between an asphalt track and a concrete track as far as a car's grip is concerned. The track temperature doesn't seem to change as much on concrete because it's not a black surface that draws in the heat and makes a slicker surface. Concrete creates a more equal qualifying environment for everyone because the qualifying draw doesn't matter so much based on the time of day. With asphalt tracks like Charlotte, you always want a later qualifying draw when the sun has gone down a bit because the track is usually faster then. But the concrete at Bristol is rough and there are a lot of seams in the surface, so shocks are very important for keeping the tires right on the track. Our shock specialist will be one of the busiest guys on the Cingular team this weekend at Bristol.

NASCAR has instated some different pit road rules at Bristol to try to even out the pit box situation. Bristol has always had two pit roads and the guys pitted on the frontstretch have an advantage over the guys pitted on the backstretch. No matter what position you're in when you come down pit road and no matter how fast your pit stop is, if you're pitted on the backstretch, you're going to lose positions when you pit. NASCAR has done something to try to even that out a bit and take away that advantage of pitting on the frontstretch.

I don't see anything wrong with the new pit road rules NASCAR has introduced for Bristol and I think they're a good idea because now it's not such an advantage to qualify within the top 21 to get a frontstretch pit stall. Obviously, the Cingular Wireless team wants to qualify well because qualifying plays such a key role in how the rest of the race goes for our team. Qualifying is very important at Bristol because it's such a short track and you can get lapped so quickly. But the new pit road rules should make it fair for all 43 teams, regardless of where they qualify, provided that NASCAR mandates the speed limit from the exit of the Turn 3 pit lane to the beginning of the Turn 4 pit lane (frontstretch pits). If someone jumps that speed a little bit, he can gain a big advantage on the guys on the front side. So, NASCAR is going to have to monitor that very closely to make sure it's indeed fair to everyone.

I'm really looking forward to going to Bristol, but I wish we'd gotten the chance to test the there. Some of our weaknesses this season have been at places where we hadn't tested, but we've been pretty good at the tracks we've tested on. We showed up at Vegas and were pretty good and we were decent at Atlanta, both of which we tested. Although we didn't get the chance to test at Bristol, hopefully we can build on some of the notes RCR has and come out of that 'slug fest' with a good finish.

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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